|7 May 2002
Focus on sexual violence among Burundi refugees
Workers in the field of sexual
and gender-based violence (SGBV) agree that such incidences tend to be
particularly prevalent among refugee populations, due to a mixture of dire
socioeconomic circumstances and pressures. "Due to the situation in the camps,
husbands are not able to afford food for their families, or clothing. They are
also idle all day, and drink local brews. And their poor economic status leads
to a lot of violence," Juster Ruttaba, SGBV officer from aid agency Norwegian
People's Aid (NPA), told IRIN.
The SGBV project in the refugee camps in
Ngara, western Tanzania, was established three years ago, "because we found
that many women were being raped, sexually harassed, being forced into early
marriages, and suffering from domestic violence," Ruttaba said. Of the almost
360 people assisted so far this year, about 95 percent of cases were related to
"A month ago there was a case where a man gave his
wife 100 shillings [about US 10 cents] to buy vegetables. She was eight months
pregnant, and told him she was too tired to go out shopping. Then he went off
drinking to the local bar. He came back later, she gave him his evening meal,
and they both went to bed. At six a.m. he woke up, took an axe and attacked her
- she had seven deep gashes including in her pregnant abdomen and her eye. She
lost the eye," said Ruttaba, but managed to give birth to a healthy baby.
Another woman had arrived for help at the project just a day or two
beforehand. She had been captured by bandits outside the refugee camps, and
held captive for several days. "There were four of them, three who were armed.
They made her cook and work for them, and repeatedly raped her. They kept her
as a "shared wife". Eventually she managed to escape from the unarmed captor,
and later reported the case to the police. "Among a 'normal' population we also
have violence, but it's not reported. In the refugee camps more and more cases
are being reported, because of the awareness-raising we are doing," said
The vast majority of rapes occur outside of the refugee camps,
where women are searching for firewood or farming to earn some money. Many of
the cases occur among minors: of the 13 cases reported to the SGBV project in
Ngara from the beginning of this year through the end of April, 11 of the
victims were 18 years old or under, with six aged between 10 and 15, and two
between six and nine. In 2001, 53 out of 76 cases were among girls of 18 or
under, with 22 aged between 10 and 15, and 18 between less than a year old and
nine. While in some cases children were physically forced to have intercourse,
in others they were given food or payment in kind, said Ruttaba.
rapists take advantage of the fact that women have to leave the camps for
firewood, and also because there are few police outside," she said. "Some
children are also left alone all day when their mothers are out working."
Whenever a rape is reported, the victim is given a medical examination,
counselling, emergency contraceptives and helped to file a police report if she
wishes. In April 2002, of the 71 cases of rape reported to the Ngara SGBV
project, three were handled by the police, with local tribunals involving
respected elders and chiefs handling 37.
Of the 68 cases of domestic
violence reported to the Ngara SGBV project in April 2002, 23 occurred as a
result of polygamy/boyfriend/girlfriend problems, 15 over food rations, and 14
due to prostitution. Local practices, such as polygamy, were a major cause of
domestic violence, noted Ruttaba. Due to the particularly poor economic status
of women refugees, several women are often keen to marry the same man. This can
lead to ill-feeling or violence between the wives, which can in turn lead to a
husband becoming violent.
In some cases, men are also attacked by their
wives. "In cases where husbands are impotent, some men are harrassed and
attacked by their wives. We are also encouraging them to report to us," said
Ruttaba. In April alone, there were eight cases reported of women attacking
men, 28 of men attacking women, and 32 involving women being attacked by
members of the wider family. A significant number (34) of the incidences
occurred within three days of food distributions taking place. In some cases,
cultural practices and values effectively enslave women. "If you don't produce
three or four children you will be divorced," Angelina Ballart of the United
Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) told IRIN.
Moreover, many women are
also not allowed to use contraceptives. "The husbands don't like them to use
it. They want more children because of the war situation. The husbands are a
great obstacle," she said. UNICEF estimates that only 3.2 percent of women use
family planning methods. Among those who do, injections are popular, because
they are required only once every three months, and can be given in secret.
Many young girls between 13 and 16 years old are forced into marriages,
so that parents who are in desperate economic circumstances can obtain a dowry.
In order to educate the refugees about sexual and gender-based violence
- defined as "forcing another individual, through violence, threats, deception,
cultural expectations, weapons, or economic circumstances, to engage in
behaviour against his or her will" - social workers went from row to row of mud
houses in the camps to raise awareness. Meetings were held with local leaders,
peer education done, videos about preventative measures shown, and discussions
encouraged, said Ruttaba.
Last year, an initiative was launched by
local communities whereby people tried to monitor which men were conspicuously
absent when a rape occurred outside the camps, in order to establish who the
culprits were. Women were also being escorted by self-appointed "guards" when
they left the camps to get firewood. While it was both a radical and welcome
initiative, with time interest had waned and many women were back to looking
after themselves, Ruttaba said.
Some men were beginning to show
interest in the project, she said, but the numbers would have to increase for
change to occur. "We need to involve more men, because they're the ones who are
causing the problem. (IRIN)