An Unlikely Advocate for Women

My name is Faustin Ntiranyibagira. I am 36 years old and I married my wife Leonie in 1996. We have three children – a girl and two boys – and I am Burundian.

Growing up, my family was very poor. My father was often drunk, and when he returned home singing in the evening, we would hide to avoid the arguments he had with my mother. She feared my father and his beatings.

In spite of my father’s behavior, I envied him. I saw him as a supreme authority – a “president” in his household – because everybody in our house trembled when he spoke. I told myself that one day I would get married so that I could give orders too.

This strong desire pushed me to start my family at a young age. My wife was young and beautiful when we married, but a life of strenuous chores awaited her: she ploughed fields all day long; she was responsible for all of the household activities, and on top of it all, I abused her. Indeed I followed my father’s example.

I spent most of my time hanging out with other men who had nothing better to do, let alone contribute anything to their household. We men assured each other that it was necessary to show our wives that we are men and that beating them would better educate them – I was the first to make the others believe it.

The irony of this is that the other men saw me as a “man of speech and influence”. One day, visitors from CARE facilitated a meeting on our hill and encouraged us to form a community development committee. Many believed it was a waste of time. I wanted to take part and I was elected by the men because they knew that I would always support the superiority of men over women. As a member, I gained opportunities to participate in training for community leadership, peaceful resolution of conflicts, agricultural techniques, the struggle against HIV and AIDS and various topics.

These trainings contributed to the development of my leadership skills and a commitment to serve my community. But in spite of the changes in me, the relationship with my wife remained bad. My wife never saw my money. Even when I slept, the money was kept in my underwear. The ultimate turning point began when my wife fell very ill – she became thinner, dirty and was not actively cultivating crops. She was exhausted – from the constant physical abuse, poor food and low self-esteem.

At first, I hid that my wife was ill; I used to wake up at four in the morning to go and fetch water so that no one would see me. Unfortunately one day I met a neighbour who had risen very early. I begged him not to tell anyone he had seen me. I was too proud to be seen collecting firewood so I began pulling the wooden supports off my house too. At the end of each day I was exhausted from all of the domestic chores.

One morning, my wife proposed that we sell the parcel of land her family had given her when we married because she was too weak to travel and cultivate it. I agreed to this as it meant that we were going to get money from selling the land. What astonished me mostly was that my wife handed over all the money and said, “Here is the money, decide what we can do with it.” I was shocked because she had never seen a cent from me I decided not to waste this money.  Instead, I added more money and bought another parcel of land nearby. My wife was very happy, although she said nothing at the time. Still intimidated, she would not express her joy around me.

My metamorphosis was taking place slowly but surely as I became more responsible. The ultimate turning point however took place at the discussions organized by CARE last year. In the men’s group, we talked about sharing decision making within the household. It was facilitated by a man about my age, a farmer from a neighboring hill. His life story resembled my own, except that he had changed his behavior and was now making decisions together with his wife.

His story touched me very deeply and confirmed to me that my bad behavior was unjustified. I realized that my violent actions towards my wife did not make her respect me nor my position as a man. In that moment I decided I had to change. I told my story immediately to the whole group, and although we were neighbours for years, no one really knew what occurred in my household.

Deep inside I began to realize that my father was not right in his cruel actions.

Some days later, my wife asked me for money to market sugar cane. I gave her the money, but I still feared that the money would not be managed well. She began her business and traveled 15 kilometres to resell them. After three months, I witnessed miracles – my wife had purchased a goat, and two months later another, whereas all of my life I had not even been able to purchase a guinea pig! And during all of this time, she was using the money she had earned to buy household items and investing it!

I gradually began to help my wife with household chores. She was worried that people might start rumours that I was “bewitched” if they saw me doing chores that were traditionally for women. I persisted, splitting wood, peeling potatoes and fetching water on days when I was not working in my position as chief. As we became accustomed to sharing activities, making decisions and managing the household, my family became happier I am no longer ashamed to work with my wife. I no longer hide money from her, and the violence has stopped. My wife is rejuvenated. She is very beautiful and I love her deeply.

Translate »