#16Days: Lessons from Burundi: Connections between Gender, Conflict and the Spread of HIV/AIDS

Burundi blog post
Weapons being burnt during the official launch of the Disarmament, Demobilization, Rehabilitation and Reintegration (DDRR) process in Muramvya, Burundi. Photo credit: Martine Perret / United Nations.

Article Review: “Conflict and Gender: the Implications of the Burundian Conflict on HIV/AIDS Risks” by Hakan Seckinelgin, Joseph Bigirumwami, and Jill Morris, Conflict, Security & Development 11:01 (2011)

During conflicts, women are often subject to rape and other forms of sexual violence in an effort to demoralize the enemy. As a result, they are extremely vulnerable to contracting HIV/AIDS. Exploring the case of Burundi, the authors of this journal article argue that “pre-conflict gender relations and what happens to them in conflict and post-conflict periods create structural vulnerabilities for the possibility of the spread of HIV.”

The article begins by explaining how pre-existing gender relations have created structural vulnerabilities for the possibility of the spread of HIV. The structure of Burundian family is described as patrilineal and patrilocal thus women either “belong” to the father or to the husband. They often do not have a voice when it comes to any decision-making in family matters. On the other hand, men have a lot of power over women and can easily divorce their wives whenever they wish. If a husband kicks out his wife from their home for whatever reason, and her family does not accept her back, she is often forced to use her body to support herself thus further increasing the chances of contracting and/or spreading HIV. Moreover, since Burundian men travel often, women are left vulnerable to other men – often the relatives of the husband – while the husbands often have sexual relations with other women. These conditions have greatly contributed to the spread of HIV prior to the start of the conflict.

During the conflict, there were various factors that made women more vulnerable to contraction of HIV: the combatants took up bush wives, raped, or had multiple sexual partners and then come back home without getting tested; many people relocated often as they were trying to escape violence and many of them moved into rebel camps and internally displaced people camps where rape was quite common; the long duration of the conflict prevented any efforts at educating people about HIV; and lastly, soldiers and rebels were deployed across the country and both often raped women from the nearby communities. Thus the duration of the conflict, the extensive deployments of forces, and the mobility of people created by the conflict made women very vulnerable to the contraction and spread of HIV.

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