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21 June 2016

Burundi: Education for women enhances their self-esteem and independence

The women’s rights organisation “Solidarity of Burundian women in the struggle against AIDS and malaria” (SFBLSP) was founded by Espérance Ntirampeba in 2004. In the past eight months, medica mondiale has been providing support to the organisation for its activities to strengthen women and girls, in particular with literacy courses and psychosocial counselling. The women are introduced to their rights, making them more independent and confident.

Great demand for education: Prospects for women in an unstable country

Most women in Burundi are illiterate. Being able to read, write and do simple arithmetic would enable them to gain independence and take more control of their lives. This is why SFBLSP organises literacy courses and enjoys support from the Burundi Ministry of Education for teacher training in this field. This year 131 women took part in literacy courses. The number of places (originally 100) had to be increased due to great demand. Completing the course means a lot to the women: “Participating successfully enhances a women’s self-esteem and reduces her dependence,” explains Country Officer Karen Knipp-Rentrop from medica mondiale. The women gain new prospects with their literacy and arithmetic skills. After last year’s presidential elections, their country remains unstable. In particular, in some neighbourhoods in the capital there are repeated instances of kidnappings, detentions, murders, attacks and violent clashes between security forces, opposition groups and rebels. Poverty and criminality are increasing to worrying levels throughout the country. Women and girls suffer particularly in an unstable environment such as this, with widespread threats of sexualised and structural violence. For these reasons, the courses also include awareness raising components on the issues of women’s rights and sexualised violence. The aim is to enable the women to protect themselves better from sexualised violence, discrimination and stigmatisation.

Strength in action: Woman sends warning text message when her husband spends their household money in the bar!

The closing celebrations were held recently and two staff members from medica mondiale, Angeles Martinez, Director of the medica mondiale Regional Office in Burundi, and Karen Knipp-Rentrop, attended the ceremony to award the certificates. “So many women came, despite the long distances involved,” remembers Karen Knipp-Rentrop. They had dressed ceremoniously in honour of the occasion. The successful participants revealed how they intended to put their new skills into action: “They can send their own messages and read official letters, as well as, for example, writing warning texts to their husbands if the men have taken the household money with them to the bar,” explained Karen Knipp-Rentrop. 78% of the participants passed the final tests. Some had to leave the course prematurely because they had too many difficulties attending, often due to domestic duties, the distances, or the deteriorating security situation. Others were unable to attend on the day of the final tests. This makes it even more important to continue the program, as already foreseen in the project cooperation between medica mondiale and SFBLSP.

Further priorities include: psychosocial counselling, income-generating measures, and raising awareness of sexualised violence

In addition to the literacy courses, medica mondiale is also funding training for 25 psychosocial assistants on counselling and dealing with trauma. These assistants advise survivors locally and refer them where necessary to specialist organisations and institutions. During the funding period, SFBLSP is also providing assistance on income-generating measures to 25 women and raising awareness of HIV/AIDS for another 25. Another measure will provide training in self-protection measures to 25 sex workers, who will also be helped to gradually find a path in life beyond prostitution. In 2013, medica mondiale had already provided funding to the Burundian organisation SFBLSP for measures aiming to advise, train and empower survivors of sexualised violence and sex workers.