Young Burundians tactical agency regarding sexual relations and decision making: From participatory research to evidence-based and practically relevant sexuality education


Coordinator: Prof. Ria Reis (The University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research, department of Anthropology)

Consortium partners

  • The School of Social Sciences at Makerere University (SSSM) 
  • Care International in Burundi (CARE) 
  • Rutgers 
  • Netherlands Institute for the Study of Crime and Law Enforcement (NSCR) 

Summary of progress

Empowerment: how are young Burundians’ strategies strengthened by sexuality education?
The research will provide insights in knowledge, attitudes and skills of young Burundians to make safe and informed decisions related to sexuality, and how the environment (such as parents, schools, and peers) and factors (e.g. gender norms) influence this process. The first year focused on the development of detailed research plans, instruments, and fieldwork preparations. The research is divided in three sub-projects. One project evaluates the role of sexuality education in schools in Burundi. Data will be collected in late 2017 and 2018, using a structured survey as well as conducting in-depth interviews. For project 2, in-depth studies will be conducted in refugee settings in Uganda and Rwanda to understand how young Burundians pursue sexual well-being. Data collection started in July 2017 and will rely on qualitative methodologies, such as in-depth interviews and group discussions. The third project is scheduled for 2019. In participatory workshops at community, provincial and national level, we will translate the findings from project 1 and 2 into policy recommendations around the provision of sexuality education, directly feeding into a nation-wide programme to improve sexual and reproductive health and rights of young people in Burundi by among others sexuality education.


The combination of violence, poverty, low coverage of youth friendly SRHR services (YFS), contradictory messaging, insufficient information from parents, and low quality comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) contributes to increased risks for STI/HIV infections, early pregnancies, abortions, and staggering levels of sexual and gender based violence in Burundi. To effectively address these problems, detailed knowledge is needed on how young people navigate sexuality in intimate relations, and how they are supported or obstructed by (f)actors on various levels. Although literature exists on generic factors, little is known about the diverging causal pathways explaining outcomes. The Burundian government has recently validated a national module including three manuals to provide CSE in school, SRHR information at community level and YFS in health facilities. Yet, young people are known to have difficulties bringing into practice knowledge received through CSE. This study's objective is to generate in-depth knowledge on how power structures and social processes inhibit or enable the internalisation and application of SRHR knowledge and skills by young people in Burundi, and to translate these findings into strategies strengthening current interventions, and their evidence base. Our approach is participatory, mixed methods, intertwining an ethnographic study with a natural intervention experiment, and process evaluation. Young people will act as co-researchers. The results will be translated to policy recommendations, using collaborative workshops with young people, and relevant stakeholders. By filling the knowledge gap on causal pathways leading to SRHR outcomes, and the role of CSE in these, this study will inform interventions in and beyond Burundi.


Scientific article

Publications for the general public

  • J. Westeneng(2016): Does Sexuality Education in Burundi contribute to healthy sexual development
  • J. Westeneng(2017): conceptualizing sexual empowerment
  • J. Westeneng, R. Reis(2017): Young Burundians tactical agency regarding sexual relations and decision making: From participatory research to evidence-based and practically relevant sexuality education
  • Y. Ruzibiza(2018): Lost in Freedom : the double face of freedom in the context of sexuality among young Burundians living in Nakivale refugee camp.
  • J. Westeneng(2018): Article Share-net Burundi
  • J. Westeneng(2018): Implementation research on CSE
  • J. Westeneng(2018): What are the pressing needs on CSE
  • J. Westeneng(2018): Great Lakes Regional Practitioners’ Conference on Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health & Rights


Project number

W 08.560.004

Main applicant

Prof. dr. R. Reis

Affiliated with


Team members

L. Belo, Dr. L.H. Berckmoes, A. Macumi, Dr. S. Neema, J. Nintutze, Prof. dr. R. Reis, Y. Ruzibiza, L. Uwumuremyi, J. Westeneng