Wednesday, 27 February 2008

A shocking atrocity in Burundi

There was a shocking story of an atrocity against a woman in Burundi reported on the UN news site IRIN News ( The woman's husband was convicted for chopping her arms off in 2004, nominally for giving birth to a girl. The husband has recently been released early from his life sentence, and has reportedly made threats against the woman.

The atrocity is the more shocking because women in Burundi, like Rwanda to the north, have had rather more political and personal freedom than elsewhere in Africa. A third of Burundi's parliament is female, and in 1994 its former prime minister was a woman, one of the most senior women either before or since in Africa. Her term was roughly the same as another woman prime minister in Rwanda, where the current proportion of women in Parliament is the highest in the world at 49% (from In Rwanda's capital Kigali, both Rwandan and foreign women walk the streets alone with less evident harassment than in some parts of the UK, for example. Women traders play cat-and-mouse with the police, who seem to chase them away from hawking positions, but the women return promptly.

Perhaps the atrocity was an individually motivated action, rather than the organised sexual violence common across the border in the Democratic Republic of Congo's war. It would be interesting to see a rigorous analysis of how Burundi and Rwanda's sexual balance and attitudes have occurred. The countries are internationally exceptional in many ways, and the origins of their social structures are fascinating.

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