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Resolution 1325: What the UN can learn from the women of Burundi

On the tenth anniversary of UN Security Council Resolution 1325, guest blogger Jina Moore analyzes its impact in Africa and says that while concrete progress is minimal, it has changed the conversation.

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The ethnic binaries made some women feel divided in their own families. “As women, you have people on both sides. Me, my dad is a Hutu and my mom is a Tutsi. As a child, you have cousins on both sides,” she said.

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Women want to see their aunts, their sisters. Kids want to play together. And so, some women simply did just that. They would make appointments to meet in the center of Bujumbura, the capital, at a neutral place like Novotel, a posh hotel. “They wanted to make sure their kids could meet [their friends]… They mixed. And once you meet and get close to one another, it creates friendships.”

Other women pushed boundaries even more purposefully. Organized by some NGOs, Nkurunziza remembers women moving from a Tutsi suburb to the Hutu-populated Bujumbura-Rurale, the tall igiseke baskets with cone-shaped hats balanced on the women’s heads, simply going to visit. “These visits broke barriers,” she recalled. “Dialogue began.”

It was, for the most part, an invisible fight. Nkurunziza told me, “These are kinds of acts not documented. When men went to Arusha [peace negotiations], they didn’t mention it. They were just power sharing, signing documents. But the real peace was happening at the grassroots, with the women.”

It didn’t end there. The women realized their power at the grassroots and advocated for a place at the men’s table. Nkurunziza recalls women lobbying for the right to participate in the negotiations in 2000. They were rebuffed several times, she said, but finally the men relented and agreed to allow women in the room. They couldn’t speak or participate, but they could listen. They may not have been allowed to take the floor, but their presence made an impact – on both Burundi, which now has a 30 percent quota for women serving in Parliament, and on the UN.

“I think this somehow influenced the vote on 1325. I think it inspired people,” Nkurunziza says.

I haven’t cross checked that with the diplomats, in whose interest it would be to deny it anyway. But I did as Nkurunziza what influence 1325 has really had. She too saw problems in implementation.

But she also saw promise. The resolution and those that followed, let women lobby even more vigorously for positions of influence. They give women a metric by which to hold their leaders accountable. They amplify a voice the women of Burundi worked so hard to find on their own. And it’s not a voice that will keep quiet.

“Now women here know their power,” she told me. “They see now that even though they’re in the back, unrecognized, they are powerful.”

Jina Moore is a reporter who blogs at jinamoore.com.

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of Africa bloggers. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here.
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