Aminata Traoré is a woman in her forties and a teacher in a private school in the Segou region. Today, she is educating a dozen women and a few men from her community about the many different forms of gender-based violence in Mali.
Mrs. Traoré is herself a survivor of gender-based violence. Mrs. Traoré was abused by her husband ten years ago. She says her dreams of being a happy intellectual were shattered by a man in a society that favours men over women.
She explains: “I knew my ex-husband almost twenty years ago, when we were students. When we got married, he started to hit me. We were renting a house with several other families, and when my husband was angry, he would hit me with any object he had at hand. He would throw things at my head and hit me in the stomach.”
She even suffered a miscarriage due to the violence.
Mrs. Traoré knew it was time for a change, so she turned to a local association called Association femmes battues d’Hamdallaye or Hamdallaye Battered Women’s Association for help. The association guided her through the difficult steps that came next—she hired a lawyer to file for divorce.
She recalls the help and support gratefully, saying, “Thanks to the association, I was saved.”
Now divorced, Mrs. Traoré dedicates her time to raising awareness about gender-based violence and helping other women report and overcome violence in their own lives. She received training from an organization called Women in Law and Development in Africa, or WiLDAF. WiLDAF also supports Mrs. Traoré’s local awareness-raising sessions by providing expert input and logistical support.
Recently, Mrs. Traoré created a women’s group in her region to fight against gender-based violence. The group’s name—Muso Dème Ton—means “Those who want to help women” in the local language, Bambara. The women meet every Friday at Mrs. Traoré’s home or in a nearby schoolyard to explain women’s and girls’ rights to the members, and the procedures to follow when a woman or girl experiences violence.
Mrs. Traoré also shares the contact information for associations that defend women and the toll-free numbers available to women in danger. The association also holds training events on entrepreneurship, local soap-making, and other skills that help women achieve financial independence. More than anything, the group is a place where the women members can express themselves freely and find mutual support.
Mariam Traoré is a lawyer and consultant at WiLDAF in Mali. She says that one in two Malian women between the ages of 15 and 49 has experienced physical or sexual gender-based violence. She adds that, in 2018, 79% of women and 47% of men in Mali believed that gender-based violence against women was justifiable in some kinds of circumstances.
To change this situation, Mrs. Traoré believes that Mali needs to put more laws in place to both protect women from gender-based violence and support survivors. Some services are already available for women, including care centres for survivors of gender-based violence in Koulikoro, Kayes, Sikasso and Ségou, as well as in parts of Bamako.
She also notes the toll-free, 24-hour help line for women anywhere in Mali, which can be reached at 80333. The line is operated by local authorities, and receives and treats distress calls and other reports of gender-based violence.
Ségné Sangaré is a psychologist and health advisor. He says that gender-based violence is more than just physical violence; it also includes mental and emotional violence. Mr. Sangaré says that gender-based violence includes any traumatic or humiliating experience committed against a woman, including those that cause sleep deprivation or abnormal social behaviours.
He adds that gender-based violence becomes even more complex and damaging when it involves young girls or “child brides.”
Mr. Sangaré says that traditional beliefs can often compound problems related to gender-based violence. He cites the belief that women should be submissive to their husbands, saying that this makes it more difficult for women to report violence in their home. He adds that the silence and taboo that surrounds gender-based violence means that children do not receive explanations for the violent acts they observe and suffer, nor are they given the opportunity to express their feelings or to be reassured. These children can develop emotional and behavioural problems, and may themselves have abusive relationships.
For Mrs. Traoré, all this makes it more important to continue her fight. She hopes that the combined efforts of women, organizations like WiLDAF, and the government will reduce gender-based violence in her country.
Mrs. Traoré says: “In spite of all the violence we face on a daily basis, we are allowed to have hope because there were times when these kinds of meetings were forbidden. But today we are able to get together to discuss and inform each other in order to find ways to effectively fight against these violent practices that undermine our society. In the end, I will say that ignorance leads to fear, fear leads to hate, and hate leads to violence. Being informed is a duty for each and every one of us, so let’s try to inform ourselves because better late than never.”
This resource was produced through the “HÉRÈ – Women’s Well-Being in Mali” initiative, which aims to improve the sexual and reproductive health well-being of women and girls and to strengthen the prevention of and response to gender-based violence in Sikasso, Ségou, Mopti, and the district of Bamako in Mali. The project is implemented by the HÉRÈ – MSI Mali Consortium, in partnership with Farm Radio International (RRI) and Women in Law and Development in Africa (WiLDAF) with funding from Global Affairs Canada.
Photo: Aminata Traoré with her group, Muso Dème Ton. Credit: Cheick Bounama Coulibaly.
This story was originally published in August 2022.