By Surbhi Mahajan
Evariste Ndayishimiye, a retired general, won the presidential election held in May 2020, securing 68.72% of the vote. The elections allegedly took place in a highly repressive environment (reported killings, arrests of opposition leaders, voter intimidation) with no independent international observers.
This was Burundi’s fourth post-conflict general election as well as a year that marked the 15th anniversary of the implementation of gender quotas in politics. A result of the combined efforts of women in the transitional government of Burundi and women in local civil society groups, in partnership with international feminist organizations like UNIFEM, successfully demanded the incorporation of gender quotas into Burundi’s post-conflict constitution. As a result, female political representation significantly increased post-conflict.
In Burundi, the President is directly elected by universal suffrage with an absolute majority for seven year-term. There should be at least a hundred National Assembly members elected by proportional representation from closed multi-ethnic party lists for each province; there is a minimum quota of 2% of the votes for representation; there are also quotas regarding Hutu (60%) and Tutsi (40%) members. For every three people on the list at least one must be female and not more than two can belong to the same ethnic group.
Women’s Political Participation
Quotas were introduced by the 2005 constitution to address women’s historical underrepresentation in politics. Even though Burundi elected its first woman Prime Minister, Sylvie Kinigi, in 1993, the number of women as cabinet members or members of the national assembly had always remained low. Gender quotas changed the scenario with women’s representation going up from 20% seats filled before quota to 36.4% in lower house and 42% in upper house after quota. In 2011, the Burundian legislature even went as far as to require a minimum of 30% women in the compositions of national and provincial executive committees of political parties. Over 35% of parliament is made up of women and the share of female ministers is consistently above 30%. There is still no official data on 2020 Presidential elections.
On its progress in relation to women’s rights as a whole, the principal of gender equality and non-discrimination on the grounds of sex is enshrined in the 2005 Constitution. 2011-2025 National Gender Policy is a step forward and aims to correct the historical disadvantages faced by women by providing substantial gender-sensitive budgetary support. The Burundian government reinforced the legal protections from sexual violence and exploitation for women and girls. The adoption of a revised Penal Procedural Code that prohibits rape, including spousal rape, with penalties of up to 30 years’ imprisonment, and the adoption of a very strong law against sexual and gender-based violence in 2016 are some visible markers of progressive gender policies. Burundi ratified the Convention of Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1992 without reservations. The 2012-2016 National Action Plan for the implementation of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 (UNSC) was launched in 2011. It also spelt out in the National Demographic Policy Statement to include: strengthening family planning intervention by improving accessibility to modern contraception and strengthening the capacities of health care centres and hospitals.
At the same time, no formal law currently provides women with the right to inheritance and property, which worsens and reinforces the vulnerability of women headed households and drastically limits their economic independence and hence mobility. Similarly, while the country signed the Maputo Protocol in 2003, it still has not ratified
Women seems to have achieved a critical presence in political decision making positions. However, institutional, financial, socio-cultural barriers continue to hinder women’s effective participation.