“This occupation is the cruelest one that the Malian people have had to undergo, nowadays women are deprived of all liberties and even the choice of a husband is dictated to them by the occupying forces,” says a displaced woman* living in Bamako and originally from Timbuktu – a city occupied by armed groups today. “Even worse, the woman is married to several men against her will. Nowadays our children can no longer go to school,” she added.
Mali is currently experiencing an unprecedented security, political and humanitarian crisis, threatened by armed conflict in the north of the country which is having a direct impact on the population, and especially on women and children. The country has had to face radical armed groups such as Ansar Dine, Mali's northern rebel MUJAO and Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) – groups that have taken control over the northern part of the country where they enforce a strict interpretation of the sharia as well as restrictions, especially targeting women.
“The city of Gao has recorded the worst cases of gang rape or rape by an individual and such crimes are still being perpetrated. How to help these innocent victims on whom the occupation has taken a heavy toll? Nowadays in Gao everything belongs to these people who lay down the law and wreak havoc uninhibited,” says another woman from Gao, a city located in the north-east of the country, now residing in Bamako. She deplored the “cruelty” of the armed groups targeting women in particular.
“As for the populations who have remained in the occupied areas, their daily existence has become a nightmare: enforcement of the sharia with no tangible proof; stoning and amputations are performed. At present, young girls and boys are forcibly enrolled in the armed groups or are indoctrinated to become jihadists,” she explained.
According to the UN, instability and insecurity have driven more than 250,000 Malians to flee to neighbouring countries – not to mention the 174,000 other displaced persons within the country itself. Given this alarming state of affairs, the women have made a list of their demands, entitled “Appeal from the women of Mali.”
On 20 October, Jan Eliasson, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, visited the country and met with female leaders supported by UN Women and the UN system in Mali in order to hear their proposals and demands aimed at helping to resolve the conflict.
Assembled in Bamako, the capital of Mali, approximately 40 female leaders together with officials from the Forum of Malian civil society organizations participated in the discussions.
“Though they are the main victims of the various crises that Mali is experiencing, women are still not very much involved in the various bodies managing the transition,” stressed Mrs. Diakité
Saran Keita Diakité, President of the Women's Peace and Security Network for ECOWAS countries (REPSFECO/Mali), read out the recommendations to the UN Deputy Secretary-General.
The concrete recommendations made by the women at the meeting were strong. “We, the women from civil society in Mali (…), demand the following at the decision-making level: at least 30 per cent female representation in all bodies for crisis management and post-crisis management; participation in political and institutional governance, security and the electoral process; capacity-building in terms of mediation, negotiation, prevention, conflict-management and peace-consolidation; advocacy by the UN Secretary-General in favour of reparation for the harm suffered by rape victims as well as their care; and immediate implementation of a support fund for the self-empowerment of the women of Mali.”
A copy of the appeal was handed over to the Deputy Secretary-General, who assured that the message from the women of Mali would be carried to the highest level and that he would follow the situation closely.
UN Women is also setting up a psycho-social and economic assistance programme for displaced women and young girls affected by the conflict.