Women in Mali

Women in Mali

A Fula girl in Mali.
Gender Inequality Index
Value 0.649 (2012)
Rank 141st
Maternal mortality (per 100,000) 540 (2010)
Women in parliament 10.2% (2012)
Females over 25 with secondary education 11.3% (2010)
Women in labour force 36.8% (2011)
Global Gender Gap Index[1]
Value 0.5872 (2013)
Rank 128th out of 144

The status and social roles of women in Mali have been formed by the complex interplay of a variety of traditions in ethnic communities, the rise and fall of the great Sahelien states, French colonial rule, independence, urbanisation, and postcolonial conflict and progress. Forming just less than half Mali's population, Malian women have sometimes been the center of matrilineal societies, but have always been crucial to the economic and social structure of this largely rural, agricultural society.

Their role, too, has been shaped by the conflicts over religion, as animist societies gave way gradually to Islam in the 1100–1900 period. Women are today equal before the law in Mali, yet live with deep seated social and economic roles which may limit their actions.


Further information: Education in Mali

Primary education in Mali was compulsory up to the age of 12, but only 49.3 percent of girls (64.1 percent of boys) attended primary school during the 2005-6 school year. Girls' enrolment in school was lower than boys' at all levels due to poverty, cultural tendencies to emphasise boys' education, and early marriages for girls. Other factors affecting school enrollment included distance to the nearest school, lack of transportation, and shortages of teachers and instructional materials.[2]

Health care

Further information: Health in Mali

The government provides subsidised medical care to children as well as adults, and while the care is limited in quality and availability males and females have equal access to medical care.[2]


Further information: Polygamy in Mali
Women washing clothes in Djenné, Mali. Marriage in Mali often includes the acceptance of traditional labour roles, in this case, caring for the home.

Women may legally marry at age 18 and men at age 21. The marriage code allows girls under age 15 to marry with parental consent or special permission from a judge. Women's rights organizations have opposed this provision as contradicting international conventions that protect children through the age of 18. Underage marriage is a problem throughout the country with parents in some cases arranging marriages for girls as young as nine.[2]

A Malian NGO reported that at least 10 girls-—some below the age of 13—-lost their lives between 2005 and May 2007 because of medical complications resulting from early marriage. Medical specialists have noted that child brides were often the victims of Female genital mutilation, which exacerbates the possibility of complications from infection and childbirth.[2]

Family law

Family law favoured men, and women are particularly vulnerable in cases of divorce, child custody, and inheritance rights, as well as in the general protection of civil rights. Women have very limited access to legal services due to their lack of education and information, as well as the prohibitive cost. For example, if a woman wants a divorce, she has to pay approximately $60 (28,000 CFA francs) to start the process, a prohibitive amount for most women.[2]

Rights of women under law

Further information: Human rights in Mali
A Tuareg women in northern Mali, 2007.

The constitution and law prohibit discrimination based on social origin, color, language, race, or gender, and the government generally enforced these provisions effectively; however, violence and discrimination against women, Female genital mutilation, and trafficking in children remain problems.[2]

Abuse and exploitation of girls

Statistics on child abuse were unreliable, and reported cases of abuse were rare, according to local human rights organizations. The Malian government's social services department regularly investigates and intervenes in cases of child abuse or neglect.[2][3]

A 2004 governmental study, which involved 450 interviews, found that the children most at risk for sexual exploitation were girls between the ages of 12 and 18 who worked as street vendors or domestic servants, or who were homeless children or the victims of child trafficking. Such exploitation was most prevalent in areas in which the population and economy were in flux, such as border zones or towns on transportation routes or in mining areas. The study noted that most cases of sexual exploitation went unreported and recommended that the country strengthen its laws to protect children.[2]

Female genital mutilation

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is common, particularly in rural areas, and is performed on girls between the ages of six months to six years. According to domestic NGOs, approximately 95 percent of adult women have undergone FGM. The practice is widespread in most regions and among most ethnic groups, was not subject to class boundaries, and is not religiously based. There are no laws against FGM, but a government decree prohibits FGM in government-funded health centres.[2]

The government has launched a two-phase plan to eliminate FGM, originally by 2008. According to the local human rights organisations fighting FGM, the educational phase (workshops, videos, and theatre) continues in cities, and FGM reportedly has decreased substantially among children of educated parents. In many instances, FGM practitioners have agreed to stop the practice in exchange for other income-generating activity.[4] The National Committee Against Violence Towards Women linked all the NGOs combating FGM,[2] and high-profile work by Former Teachers' Union leader Fatoumata Sire Diakite, president of the Association for the Progress and Defense of Women (APDF) have led efforts to educate rural women and community leaders about the danger FGM poses.[5]

Rape and violence

The law criminalises rape. The 2011 US Country Report on Human Rights Practices in Mali states that "There is no law specifically prohibiting spousal rape, but law enforcement officials stated the criminal laws against rape apply to spousal rape."[6] Most cases of rape were unreported,[2] and a recent report concluded that while 300 women came forward to report sexual abuse every year in Bamako alone, in 2007 only two men were convicted of the crime. Malian organisations like Bamako's Women and Law and Development in Africa, led by lawyer Sidibe Djenba Diop, push for education, strengthening laws, and forcing their application.[7]

Domestic violence against women, including spousal abuse, was tolerated and common. Spousal abuse is a crime, but police were reluctant to enforce laws against or intervene in cases of domestic violence. Assault is punishable by prison terms of one to five years and fines of up to $1,000 (465,000 CFA francs) or, if premeditated, up to 10 years' imprisonment. Many women were reluctant to file complaints against their husbands because they were unable to support themselves financially.[8]

The Ministry for the Promotion of Women, Children, and the Family produced a guide on violence against women for use by health care providers, police, lawyers, and judges. The guide provides definitions of the types of violence and guidelines on how each should be handled. NGOs Action for the Defense and Promotion of Women Rights and Action for the Promotion of Household Maids operated shelters.[2]

The law does not specifically address sexual harassment, which occurred commonly.[2]

Economic rights and access

Women dyeing bezin cloth, Bamako. Women, while often doing farm work and childrearing, form 15% of the paid workforce in Mali.
Women at a rural market in Mali.

While the law gives women equal property rights, traditional practice and ignorance of the law prevented women—even educated women—from taking full advantage of their rights. A community property marriage must be specified in the marriage contract. In addition, if the type of marriage was not specified on the marriage certificate, judges presumed the marriage was polygynous. Traditional practice discriminated against women in inheritance matters, and men inherited most of the family wealth.[2]

Women's access to employment and to economic and educational opportunities was limited. Women constituted approximately 15 percent of the formal labour force, and the government, the country's major employer, paid women the same as men for similar work. Women often lived under harsh conditions, particularly in rural areas, where they performed difficult farm work and did most of the childrearing. The Ministry for the Promotion of Women, Children, and the Family was charged with ensuring the legal rights of women.[2]

Under a 2004–8 national plan of action to promote the status of women, the government continued efforts to reduce inequalities between men and women and to create links between women within the Economic Community of West African States and throughout Africa.[2]

Prostitution and trafficking in persons

Prostitution is legal, but third party activities (procuring) are illegal.[9] Prostitution is common in Malian cities.[2]

Most trafficking occurred within the country. Girls were reported trafficked for involuntary domestic servitude in Bamako from the rural areas. Victims were most generally trafficked for agricultural work, domestic servitude, begging, gold mining, and prostitution. The victims were usually from the central regions of the country and not a specific ethnic group. Women and girls were trafficked from Nigeria for sexual exploitation, mainly by Nigerian traffickers.[2]

The law prohibits the contractual use of persons without their consent. Penalties increase if a minor is involved and range from 5 to 20 years' imprisonment. Although legal protections and measures are in place, parents of child victims were reluctant to file charges, and cases often languished within the justice system.[2]

The Ministry for the Promotion of Women, Children, and the Family and the Ministry of Labor and Civil Service shared responsibility for combating trafficking. The two ministries, in cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Territorial Administration, developed a program to identify and rehabilitate victims, educate the population on trafficking, and strengthen the legal system with regard to the movement and trafficking of minors.[2]

Contemporary slavery

Further information: Slavery in Mali

In 2008, the Tuareg-based human rights group Temedt, along with Anti-Slavery International, reported that "several thousand" members of the Tuareg Bella caste remain enslaved in the Gao Region and especially around the towns of Menaka and Ansongo. They complain that while laws provide redress, cases are rarely resolved by Malian courts.[10]

Women's pressure groups

Several women's rights groups, such as the Association of Malian Women Lawyers, the Association of Women in Law and Development, the Collective of Women's Associations, and the Association for the Defense of Women's Rights (Association pour le Progres et la Defense des Droits des Femmes Maliennes – APDF), worked to highlight legal inequities, primarily in the family code, through debates, conferences, and women's rights training. These groups also provided legal assistance to women and targeted magistrates, police officers, and religious and traditional leaders in educational outreach to promote women's rights.[2]

Malian women's rights NGOs, such as Action for the Promotion and Development of Women, the Committee for the Defense of Women's Rights, and the Women's and Children's Rights Watch (CADEF),[11] educated local populations about the negative consequences of underage marriage. The government also helped to enable girls married at an early age to continue in school.[2]

Women in politics

Aminata Traoré, a prominent Malian politician, writer, and activist. A small number of women in Mali have risen to the highest levels of society.

A small number of Malian women have reached the highest level of business, academia and government, with women holding several government Ministerial posts and seats in the National Assembly of Mali. Aminata Dramane Traoré, author and political activist has served as the Minister of Culture and Tourism of Mali, coordinator of the United Nations Development Programme, and board member of the International Press Service.

Sidibé Aminata Diallo, a professor at the University of Bamako, is leader of the Movement for Environmental Education and Sustainable Development political party, and in 2007 became the first woman to stand for President of Mali as one of eight candidates in the April 2007 presidential election.[12] Diallo received over 12,000 votes in the election, 0.55% of the total.[13]

See also


  1. "The Global Gender Gap Report 2013" (PDF). World Economic Forum. pp. 12–13.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 Report on Human Rights Practices 2006: Mali. United States Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (6 March 2007). This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  3. Wing, S. D. , (2002) "Women's Rights in West Africa: Legal Pluralism and Constitutional Law", Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Boston Marriott Copley Place, Sheraton Boston & Hynes Convention Center, Boston, Massachusetts Online Retrieved 15 September 2008
  4. MALI: Excision practiced where pre-Islamic traditions strongest, IRIN, 28 October 2006.
  5. The Struggle Against FGM in Mali, United Nations Development Fund for Women, 24 November 2000
  6. http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/hrrpt/humanrightsreport/index.htm#section6wome
  7. MALI: Violence against women on rise, Bamako, 2 October 2008 (IRIN)].
  8. Violence against Women in Mali, Human Rights Committee. SEVENTY-SEVENTH SESSION– 17 MARCH – 4 APRIL 2003, UN-OMTC
  9. http://www.droit-afrique.com/images/textes/Mali/mali%20-%20code%20penal.pdf
  10. MALI: Thousands still live in slavery in north. IRIN, 14 Jul 2008
  11. Comité d'Action pour les Droits de l'Enfant et de la Femme
  12. Almahady Cissé, "A Presidential Election That Breaks With Tradition", Inter Press Service (allAfrica.com), 24 April 2007.
  13. "Présidentielle au Mali: la Cour constitutionnelle valide la réélection de Touré", AFP (Jeuneafrique.com), 12 May 2007 (French).
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