In some areas of Burundi, virginity is still highly prized among women, particularly in rural areas. This perception is deeply ingrained in the culture. This emphasis on virginity is in our eyes a way of perpetuating inequality, as it places undue pressure on young girls to conform to societal expectations, leading to a vicious cycle of discrimination and marginalization.
On Nyarurambi hill, Bugenyuzi Commune, a husband may even abandon his wife if he discovers she is not a virgin upon marriage. We are in 2023. According to Nyungura Libérate, a woman with 17 years of marriage, virginity is highly sought after in her community. She has witnessed numerous unions as a godmother, two of which have ended poorly due to the bride’s lack of virginity.
One such incident involved a husband who locked his wife away after discovering she was not a virgin, demanding his dowry back before he would release her. Thankfully, the situation was resolved, and the couple remains together today. While this may seem like an isolated case, similar stories are not uncommon in Burundi.
A girl who maintains her virginity is held in higher regard
Virginity is preserved as a gift for the future husband, who may then boast about his wife’s purity as if it were a trophy. Furthermore, a girl’s virginity symbolizes the honor and reputation of her family. If she is found to not be a virgin, it brings shame upon those who raised her.
However, placing such importance on a woman’s virginity perpetuates gender inequality, reducing women to nothing more than a membrane in their bodies. This mentality allows men the freedom to explore their sexuality, while women are expected to remain chaste. As a result, women are objectified for the satisfaction of their husbands, and their bodies are seen as belonging to others – not themselves.
While upholding the tradition of valuing virginity may seem like a way to protect family honor and reputation in Burundi, it ultimately contributes to the subjugation of women.
For true equality to be achieved, both men and women must recognize that a woman’s worth is not determined by her virginity. A woman’s body is her own temple, no one else should decide how she has to use it.