For many years now, I have lived and worked in Kati, a multi-cultural and multi-religious commune of about half a million people situated about 13 miles from the capital of Mali, Bamako. I serve as the Director of a Malian organisation Femmes et Droits Humains (Women and Human Rights). My organisation seeks to defend women’s rights, and takes a holistic approach to tackling sexual and reproductive health, political participation, economic rights and the right to education.
I came to call myself a feminist after going through my own experiences facing discrimination in my society and at school. I did very well at school and came first in the exams. The teachers were angry towards the boys when they saw that a girl was leading the class. One day I asked my father, “can a girl be the first?” and he responded, “well, show them that a girl can!” It was like a game for me to challenge the boys and to fill the places that were supposed to be reserved for men. This helped me strengthen my confidence and later made me realise that it was possible to make change. Being able to analyse, solve and act for women’s rights in a world of patriarchy made me call myself a feminist. I am so proud when people in my community call me a feminist.
After secondary school I pursued advanced education and have a diploma in Computer Science, Applied Language and Communication on Human Rights. Communication has always fascinated me as a powerful tool for social change. From the mid 1990s I worked with the Institute for Popular Education as the Human Rights and Gender Analysis Trainer and Women’s Education Coordinator. I ran programs on women’s reproductive health education, the eradication of violence against women (including the struggle against Female Genital Mutilation), gender analysis, women’s leadership and public participation. I have also worked with the People’s Movement for Human Rights Education as the National Coordinator of an initiative called “Consensual Human Rights Cities” which sought to promote the enjoyment of human rights at the community level across Mali. I continue to collaborate with fellow activists internationally through networks including Women Living under Muslim Laws, Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Heath and Rights and the Africa Democracy Forum. I also oversaw the participation and planning of Malian civil society in the Community of Democracies process hosted by Mali. This is an international effort to strengthen democratic norms and values worldwide.
As Africans we face many challenges including the rise of religious, cultural and economic fundamentalisms and the challenge of making all that we do visible globally. These may be big challenges. However I am an optimist, and live by the saying “Who ever wants to, can! Change is possible”