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Mali: Women try to change traditions that block their access to land

Diawo Kadiatou Tall is the president of a rural women’s group in Segou, a city 240 kilometres from Bamako, the capital of Mali. She farms more than 150 hectares of land with a group of women, producing rice, sesame, and fonio. Mrs. Tall was named an Officer of Agricultural Merit for her efforts in the field. This is an honorary distinction awarded to farmers who achieve a great harvest at the end of the farming season. But Mrs. Tall’s journey to success has not been without challenges.

Local traditions have often blocked her access to the very land where she found success. But with courage and dedication, she set herself apart and today she is a good example for women. But to be successful, she had to convince even her husband.

She explains: “At the beginning, frankly, it wasn’t easy. I accompanied my husband to the field and I helped him with his work. On the side, I maintained a small space for market gardening. When distributing lands [for the Office du Niger], my brother offered me two hectares. When I told my husband about it, he refused because, according to him, it is not a job for women—and in the end I gave him these two hectares.”

The Office du Niger is a semi-autonomous government agency in Mali, and administers a large irrigation scheme in Ségou Region.

In Malian villages, it is generally chiefs and large landowners who rent land to women. And because the land is loaned, the owner can withdraw his land whenever he wishes. Once women begin to profit from their farming, the landowner reclaims the land. So each time women succeed, they must start over.

Mrs. Tall recalls the second time she was offered land, thanks to her husband’s brother. She explains: “I approached one of [my husband’s] brothers and he put pressure on my husband. He accepted on condition that, if I wasn’t successful, I would give up.” But she was successful, and with the support of other women without secure access to land, they had a good harvest.

The money Mrs. Tall earned from this work allowed her to care for her children and pay their school fees.

n Mali, women are key actors in agriculture and specific laws ensure women’s right to land. But traditional practices and beliefs create barriers to owning and controlling land. In effect, many women have no access to land. The people who cling to traditional beliefs believe that only men should earn money from land.

Instead, women are expected to help on their husbands’ farms. They can also maintain small plots of land called so foro. These are small fields on the edges of villages where women can grow okra and groundnuts for family meals.

Mamadou Kouyaté is the president of a network of traditional communicators in Segou called RECOTRAD. He says that traditionally, especially in Bambara culture, women are not permitted to acquire land, despite their important role in society. The idea of women owning cultivable land is not well-received in society.

he traditional division of labour is clearly defined. The man is the centre and all other family members depend on him. It’s his responsibility to feed the family. In rural areas, the only activity that feeds the family is farming. Thus, owning land is a privilege reserved for men.

Furthermore, a father never bequeaths land to his daughter because she will eventually leave her paternal home to live with her husband, who is responsible for her needs.

Daouda Traoré is a facilitator based in Sikasso. He is responsible for collecting and disseminating information about farmers, and also supports NGOs to work in communities. According to Mr. Traoré, minds are beginning to change.

He says it used to be inconceivable for women to have their own land. But now, he says, women have some access to land. He explains: “Maybe if the man’s field is big enough or during the dry season, women can work on one part of their husband’s field to do market gardening. This is to meet his small needs or even pay for medicine and schooling for the children. This little space is called djon foronin.

Many non-profit organizations that promote improved agricultural practices are helping to make this change. Thanks to good harvests and women farmers’ enormous contribution to household needs, men are less and less resistant to women accessing land.

According to Mr. Traoré, to see lasting behaviour change in Mali, it’s important to continue with sensitization and information-sharing at the community level.

This resource is undertaken with the financial support of the Government of Canada provided through Global Affairs Canada.