April 11, 2018 —

Photo Credit: SEMERERA

For twenty years, Women Thrive has been supporting local organizations that create an environment where the next generation can grow up to be strong gender equality and women’s rights advocates and leaders in their communities. 

Fikiri Nzoyisenga is one of these advocates that leads such an organization. During a forum in Washington D.C. in 2015, Women Thrive met Fikiri the founder of SEMERERA -Youth Coalition Against Gender-Based Violence, a youth coalition that works to empower young women and promotes an end to gender-based violence in Burundi.

In the two years since his organization became a member of the Alliance, Fikiri has become one of the most active advocates and leaders in the Alliance. We can see the impact of what we’re doing, but also what Women Thrive is doing, and we’re grateful for that. We are so lucky to have Women Thrive supporting us and leading the coalition.”  

Fikiri started SEMERERA because he had an amazing mentor early on that showed him the change that can happen when women are empowered: “My step-mother was a special woman … She never did long studies but she had a small income generating activity, and from that, she was supporting the family.”

It was this experience that made him want to be a gender equality activist. Fikiri knew that girls and women can empower themselves to be agents of change  “no matter their level of education” as long as they are given the opportunity to do so. “When they are economically independent, it’s easier for women to defend their rights and stand up for themselves,” Fikiri says.

Since working with one community in 2010, SEMERERA has expanded its work into 16 communities, reaching a thousand young women in Burundi. And the organization is constantly looking for ways to increase its reach and impact, but as Fikiri shared this can certainly come with its challenges. “When you are challenging women to become independent and get involved in small associations, the government may not welcome it.”

Photo Credit: SEMERERA

Despite this challenge, when Women Thrive presented the opportunity to connect with other Burundian Alliance members he jumped at the chance to join forces. Fikiri is now one of the most vocal and active members of the Achieve SDG5 coalition. “There is a need for a coalition because we see that the area of gender equality is neglected in Burundi. Our constitution actually guarantees the principle of equality between men and women and the principle of non-discrimination. But in reality, we see that nothing is happening.”  The coalition brings members together to discern successful implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, especially Goal 5 on gender equality, into the Burundian government’s planning.

In addition to creating a strong collective of organizations working to achieve gender equality, Fikiri wants to make sure that SEMERERA continues to work with more communities: We see many women who are able to speak in a meeting even in the presence of men which is something that shouldn’t happen according to Burundian culture, but we are seeing many women speaking in meetings, saying no to something against them, and taking cases of abuse to court. This is a positive change happening and we want to push more for that, to help as many women as possible to advocate for themselves and defend their own rights.”

To learn more about SEMERERA or to contact Fikiri, please email Women Thrive at membership@womenthrive.org