Cablegate: R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Women's Representation In


DE RUEHJB #0112/01 0561439
R 251439Z FEB 10



E.O. 12958: N/A


1. SUMMARY: The government of Burundi conscientiously seeks
to meet the quota for women in national and provincial
governmental positions, in some cases even exceeding the
constitutional requirements. These female politicians face
additional challenges that their male counterparts escape,
including societal constraints and educational inequalities.
Despite the existence of women in political positions at all
levels of government, the average Burundian woman still
struggles for equality or even decent treatment. Burundi has
some distance still to travel before women can truly be said
to have equal rights. However, the concerted effort to
promote women in the public sphere is an excellent step in
the right direction. The Embassy supports a number of
programs to strengthen Burundian women's political
participation. END SUMMARY.

2. NATIONAL LEVEL: At the national level the government
conscientiously applies constitutional quotas for women and
even goes beyond in application, appointing women to high
level positions, particularly in the judicial system. The
constitution reserves 30 percent of National Assembly,
Senate, aQministerial positions for women. In December
2009, there were 36 women in the 118-seat National Assembly
and 16 women in the 49-seat Senate. Women held seven of 24
ministerial seats. In addition, there were seven women on
the 18-seat Supreme Court, including the chief justice, and
two women on the seven-seat Constitutional Court, including
the chief justice and deputy chief justice.

3. PROVINCIAL AND LOCAL LEVEL: According to research reported
by the Association of Women Lawyers in Burundi, 17.6% of the
17 governors of provinces are women, but women make up only
5.8% of principal advisors to governors. Similarly, 10.21%
of the 129 communal administrators are women (comparable to
being a small-town mayor in the U.S.), but only 2.3% of the
communal council presidents are women (comparable to being a
city council chairperson). Both council presidents and
communal administrators are elected by communal councils but
the administrator position has more authority. Experts could
not explain why the councils elect significantly more women
to the administrator role than to the council president role.

4. Though women are in these governmental positions, they are
not perceived as advocates for women's rights. According to
Mireille Niyonzima of the Association for the Defense of
Women's Rights (known by its French Qonym ADDF), female
politicians are placed in their elected positions by their
male-led parties to meet quotas. (Note: In Burundi's
parliamentary system, voters vote for parties, not specific
candidates. The parties elected then fill the seats they won
using pre-established lists.) Therefore, these elected women
feel constrained by and beholden to their party leadership.
The women feel they cannot push an agenda contradictory to
their party's priorities and; not surprisingly, no major
party is prioritizing controversial issues like women's
inheritance rights. Mireille also stated that Burundian
women take into greater consideration the potential negative
effects of political life on families, in thinking about both
the day-to-day sacrifices as well as the very real mortal
risk in Burundi to opposition party member's lives.

5. Minister of Communications Venerand Bakevyumusaya
suggested to PolOff that professional women opt out of
political life because the continuing cultural expectation of
a woman's responsibilities in the home is incompatible with
the sacrifices politics require. He also observed that women
lack the education and work experience of their male
counterparts, hampering their willingness and their ability
to run for public office, as well as their effectiveness when
serving in the government.

6. To strengthen Burundian women's political participation,
the Embassy supports a variety of programs. For example,
USAID funded a Women in Leadership program implemented by
Chemonics, which financed the participation of women lawyers,
parliamentarians, and ministers in international conferences;
organized in-country training for women in grassroots
organizations to enhance their participation in political
processes; and hosted workshops in Burundi for female
lawyers, parliamentarians, and leaders of civil society
organizations to strengthen conflict resolution skills and
encourage the fight against corruption. In partnership with
the NGO IFES, Chemonics is also implementing USAID funding to
train potential women candidates in the 2010 elections:

supporting women's participation, strengthening their
competitiveness, improving their ability to communicate to
the public, and encouraging the women to lobby their parties
for placement at the top of their party lists. Post also
sent a female NGO leader to participate in the 2009 IVLP on
citizen participation in democracy.

7. In addition, through USAID's Economic Growth Programs and
the Ambassador's Special Self-Help Program, the embassy funds
programs that encourage women's participation and leadership
in local business and farmer associations. While these
efforts are not directly targeted at increasing women's
participation in politics, they do empower women at the
grassroots level, thus increasing the likelihood of their
participation in politics, particularly at the local level.

8. COMMENT: Fulfilling quotas and promoting women in
ministries and the judicial system certainly reflects
progress for Burundian women, but the government and
political parties need to take the next step of translating
support in the public sphere to supporting women's rights at
all levels and at all times. Women are caught in a vicious
cycle - poor education has hindered their aQancement toward
equal rights and that lack of advancement and empowerment has
also limited women's ability to call for improved access to
education. Burundian women continue to face widespread
gender-based violence (reftel), discriminatory inheritance
laws, and general disenfranchisement. USG assistance helps
empower Burundian women and combat their disenfranchisement,
but women politicians, and Burundi's leaders in general, need
to be the strong advocates for women's rights, beyond just a
fulfillment of constitutional quotas. END COMMENT.


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