Dual Challenge for Elected Women in Rural Mali— to Govern and Be Counted

March 8, 2010

BAMAKO, March 8, 2010— In Mali, women in rural areas wishing to enter politics must be prepared to face at least two challenges: their societal status as women and their background as women from a rural area. An uphill battle that 25 elected rural women from 33 communes in the Kita Division (located 180 kilometers from Bamako, the capital) discussed at a recent workshop financed by the World Bank’s Civil Society Fund.

Among other topics, the workshop focused on a thorny social issue—whether an elected woman was equal to an elected man. Yet as discussions were underway, it soon became clear that problems faced by elected officials were the same regardless of their gender. Non-payment of taxes and fees, troubles with the civil registry, health, children’s rights, the enrollment of girls in school, and education in general were on the agenda.

Training women so that they can reach their full potential in the management of public affairs is a national task,” said Mamadou Sangaré, permanent secretary of the local branch of a political party in Kita.

If anyone truly understood this need for training, it had to be Diogan Sakiliba, a municipal councilor who traveled from a remote town. Elected for the first time in April 2009, she came to the workshop hoping to get basic training on commune-level management, through topics such as decentralization in Mali, women’s leadership, and decision making.

At times, the discussions took on the air of legal consultations. “Some of our mayors say that they were elected for a five-year term during which they can manage without councilors,” charged one participant. “They do as they please and say that a second term is not important to them. What is the correct procedure for putting an end to this trend?” he asked.

Women’s Leadership versus Party Discipline

In the opinion of the participants, difficulties with the proper positioning of women in commune-level bodies were the direct consequence of their poor placement on electoral lists. Women, they said, were rarely placed at the top of the list, which caused prejudice to them given that Mali’s proportional representation system favors the better-placed candidates.

Party discipline, which generally militated against women, low blows, insinuations, intimidation, and even thinly veiled threats, have been used to exclude women or discourage them from aspiring to elected office. A disabled woman was told rather bluntly that her disability was an impediment to holding public office. “Anyone who cannot stand up cannot be mayor,” men in her party reportedly said. Another woman was told that “any woman who is at the top of the list wouldn’t last long.”

The World Bank Country Office in Mali provided approximately US$25,000 (about 12 million CFA francs) in grants to nine national NGOs, as part of the fifth cycle of its Civil Society Fund, formerly known as the Small Grants Program.

The Kita workshop was organized by one of the beneficiaries of the program, the Interdisciplinary Assistance Group for Community Development (Groupe interdisciplinaire d’assistance pour le développement des communautés).