June 30, 2016
By Simon Chambers
June is thought of as the month for weddings. In Burundi, weddings have taken on an important role in securing the rights of women in rural communities.
Burundian tradition allows the family of the husband to seize all the family assets if he dies, possibly leaving the widow and any children with nothing. The Burundian government recognized the problems with this tradition, and passed family laws stating that all assets of a married couple are owned jointly. This law protects the rights of women in the case that their husband dies.
There were a few problems in living into this law, however.
First, it only applied to legally married couples. A legal marriage cost 5000 Burundian francs ($2.50Cdn) for a marriage license. For families living on less than $1 a day, this was far too much money.
Second, most women in rural Burundi were unaware of the law and the protections it offered. 70% of women in Burundi are illiterate, so couldn’t read about the new laws.
PWRDF, with funding from Global Affairs Canada and in partnership with the Diocese of Bujumbura, began to offer workshops in rural communities like the village of Gihanga. They talked with women about their rights under the law, and the importance of being legally married in order to receive those rights.
The women wanted to get married, but spoke of the cost, and asked if the Diocese could help. Diocesan leadership spoke to the government and arranged for mass weddings where the fees would be cut in half. PWRDF (with support from Global Affairs Canada) then paid the other half of the fees and hundreds of couples were married.
In Gihanga alone, 180 couples were married in a single ceremony.
To date, 900 couples have been married under this program, protecting the wives in the event that something happens to their husbands.
One man, who had just legally married his common-law wife of over 20 years, said, “Now I understand if something happens to me, my wife will still have assets. It’s a good thing.”