Burundi will put U.N. Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security into practice with a National Action Plan (NAP) that is ready to be signed within the coming months.
"It is the appropriate moment" to push for adopting the NAP in the coming months, even if "having enough funds to implement the plan" still poses a major challenge, says Catherine Mabobori, Chairwoman of the Association of Women Parliamentarians in Burundi (SOFEPA).
Since 1993 Mabobori has been educating Burundian women on their rights, and showing them how to assume an active role in rebuilding their society after 15 years of civil war.
Despite an officially signed peace accord violence remains an endemic problem in Burundi - particularly for women. During the war women became "fragile economically and even socially", Mabobori told IPS, but today they are exposed to widespread sexual and gender-based violence.
Mabobori spoke to IPS about how internationally adopted resolutions can lead to progress in national gender policy and bring change for Burundian women.
Excerpts of the interview follow:
Q: To what extent can resolutions like 1325, designed to address the disproportionate and unique impact of war on women, and 1820, addressing the problems of sexual violence in conflict situations, help Burundian women?
A: I think resolution 1325 came at really good time in Burundi, because it was adopted when the country was in a peace process. In fact, 1325 is the same age as our peace agreement - both were adopted in 2000.
Together with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) - which was adopted in 1979, and has been ratified by Burundi - 1325 came as an additional tool for us to lobby for engendering laws... and integrating women in the national post-conflict reconstruction and peacekeeping efforts.
Today, we have many women heading governmental institutions - including the Ministries of Justice, Finance, Labour, Agriculture, Telecommunications and Gender. In total we have nine female ministers out of 22. And while we have 32 percent women in the National Assembly, 46 percent of Senate members are women. This is an improvement compared to what we had before 1325.
Q: International resolutions are one thing. To work on the ground is another thing. What are you experiences?
A: Our country is 90 percent rural, and among the rural population women are the majority. So talking about 1325 or 1820 or any other resolution we say is like speaking 'Chinese', because it is a language they do not understand.
We women activists know about those resolutions of course and we use them to empower rural women to claim their rights. Rural women need concrete actions - they do not need to be taught about these resolutions. Even when they understand them, it is not easy for them to apply what for example a law says. To give an example, if a woman has been a victim of violence by her husband and you tell her that now she should take her case to the court, it might not be possible for her. When she goes to the court that means no one is doing her work at home. Instead of losing time to go to the court she will stay there, cultivating the land, looking after her children, fetching water and so forth.
Q: Is there political will to implement provisions and norms for realising the three "Ps" - women's protection, participation, and prevention - of resolution 1325?
A: I think there is, because in Burundi we have made progress in terms of gender policies and laws. We could not have made progress without the political will.
The problem is the implementation, because it requires a collective commitment. Take our penal court as an example, which takes into account all kinds of human rights violations, including gender-based violence (GBV). What we have seen at the local administration level is that there is a kind of 'banalisation' of violence against women. We still need to sensitise the local administration so that they take the matter seriously. Whenever the cases are taken to the penal court judges, however, they judge according to the law. There are still gaps that we have in implementing laws.
We need our National Action Plan (NAP) to be adopted as soon as possible. So that our work can be well organised, because we need to include all the stakeholders in a better coordinated way which will help us to know who is doing what. And so we have a mechanism to evaluate what we are doing. For me the political commitment will be also translated in the adoption of the NAP.
Q: How was Burundian NAP developed?
A: We started in 2007 with a wide sensitisation campaign targeting women's organisations, after we have noticed that the resolution was not known seven years after its adoption. Subsequently, we did a baseline study for mapping the progress of implementing 1325 in Burundi and based on the findings we drafted our National Action Plan. To make it as inclusive as possible we invited about ten related Ministries, civil society, international NGOs and U.N. agencies. Now, we are waiting for the official adoption of the NAP within the next three months.
Q: Why is it still not adopted?
A: The problem is we have had a heavy political agenda, because of the elections and the peace process. Our plan was not really a priority... This is the appropriate moment, since we have a new government, a new parliament a new Senate.
We are working in all directions so that the NAP can be adopted as soon as possible. And even if our NAP is not yet adopted officially by the government, the implementation is already in progress. We have managed to secure a women's quota in governmental institutions and we have a specific budget line just dedicated to implement 1325 - this shows that there is a political will and maybe it will encourage other donors who are interested in investing in peace in Burundi.