As a girl growing up in Burundi, Honorate Nizigiyimana experienced firsthand the disregard toward women’s and girls’ human rights. But instead of accepting this injustice, Honorate was inspired by it to pursue her work as a woman human rights defender.
“Even though I am the eldest of my family, I am still considered to be a low-value person. That’s Burundi’s culture,” says Honorate of the gender discrimination she grew up with. In order to attend school, Honorate had to resist stiff opposition from many who said girls only learned “bad habits” in school. Even though her father ultimately succeeded in enrolling her, Honorate found that girls were separated from boys for no reason. “Those behaviors led me to think about the promotion of women’s and girls’ rights.”
Later, when civil war broke out in Burundi in 1993, Honorate says she saw a profound increase in human rights violations—further strengthening her resolve to defend women. “I saw that women and girls were very affected—killed, raped, or assaulted. Rapes and other violations based on gender became common, and impunity became the norm.”
Honorate started Développement Agropastoral et Sanitaire (DAGROPASS) in 2001. She wanted to create an organization that could empower and teach rural women, those displaced by war, and sexual violence survivors about their human rights. The group also leads campaigns to raise awareness about domestic violence and offers small business trainings and agriculture and livestock trainings for women.
With war as a powerful backdrop source of the many rights abuses women face, Honorate is also keenly focused on peace for Burundi. Honorate and DAGROPASS are working on legal reforms for arms possession, and are promoting disarmament as a peace strategy. Although Burundi’s latest civil war ended in 2006, the country is politically volatile, and some worry another war is on the horizon. “War is lingering, so is violence. Women suffer a lot from that,” says Honorate. “We don’t know where to ask for help; even the authorities are not able to handle the situation. It is really difficult for women to stand up for their rights because of this violence.”
With an unstable government and widespread discrimination against women, Honorate’s work is not easy. Besides the fact that Honorate and her organization are working with very limited funding, they also regularly experience threats and harassing phone calls because of their work helping women understand their rights. During an awareness-raising campaign for women’s human rights, some team leaders’ houses were burned down.
But this fierce opposition to respecting women’s rights and peace-building only makes Honorate more determined to continue her work. “I am a woman who enjoys working with other women, especially the most vulnerable ones,” says Honorate. “It’s why I became involved in defending women’s rights—because I see that their rights are trampled on.”
Even though I am the eldest of my family, I am still considered to be a low-value person. That’s Burundi’s culture. Those behaviors led me to think about the promotion of women’s rights.”Honorate Nizigiyimana