Brutal past, uncertain future: thousands of women were raped, forced into marriage and publicly abused by rebels and jihadists in 2012.
This campaign is a response to the extraordinary abuse suffered by women in northern Mali in 2012, after Tuareg rebels rose in rebellion. The rebels were joined by Islamic fighters, many of whom had opposed the regime of Ghadaffi in Libya and together they imposed a harsh regime. Thousands of women were raped, flogged, forced into marriage, or saw their husbands killed in front of them. Most fled south to the capital Bamako, destitute and traumatized.
In December 2012, French forces expelled Islamists from populated areas in the north and on July 1, 2013 the UN began deploying a large peacekeeping force (MINUSMA) to Mali. Malians went to the polls on July 28, 2013 and elected President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. Peace talks began in Algiers on July 16, 2014 between the Malian government and rebel armed groups and an agreement was signed in June 2015.
In spite of this, security has worsened in the north and the center of Mali. Attacks against UN peacekeepers have escalated, and travel to the north by internationals has been curtailed.
This has placed the burden of building peace squarely on Malian civil society and organizations like Sini Sanuman. Sini Sanuman (“Healthy Tomorrow”) was set up in 2002 by Siakao Traore to coordinate a Malian campaign against excision/Female Genital Mutilation. UNICEF began partnering with Sini Sanuman in 2007.
Sini Sanuman’s work on excision meant that the group was well placed to respond to the 2012 crisis. With funding from UNICEF, Sini Sanuman began an emergency program for women, and between 2012 and 2013 the group referred 221 women for medical services in Bamako.
In 2013, the office of the UN Special Representative on armed sexual violence, Mme Zeinab Bangora, referred Sini Sanuman to The Advocacy Project. At the time AP was supporting the pioneering work by SOS Femmes en Danger in the eastern Congo and we felt the same approach could be effective in Mali. Sini Sanuman and AP met in Bamako, visited refugees who had recently arrived from the north, and submitted a proposal to Zivik/IFA in Berlin. The program described on these pages was launched in June 2014.
AP has deployed three talented Peace Fellows to support the campaign. Giorgia Nicatore worked at Sini Sanuman from June to December in 2014. She was succeeded in 2015 by Refilwe Moahi, a national from Botswana and graduate of Brandeis University. In 2016, Rose Twagirumukiza, a survivor of the Rwandan genocide now studying at Georgetown University, spent 10 weeks at Sini Sanuman working on the soap project. We refer you to their blogs.
AP’s Executive Director, Iain Guest, has made several extended visits to Mali. AP promotes the program in the US by exhibiting the Alafia Mali (Peace in Mali) quilts and through our website, media outreach, and events. Iain’s evaluation reports can be found on the Resources tab.
This project has been generously funded by IFA (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen) in Berlin, with resources provided by the German Federal Foreign Office, by the Government of Liechtenstein, and by individual donors through our appeals on Global Giving. We are particularly grateful to Valentin Wasilew, our Zivik/IFA program officer, who visited Mali in September 2015 and made many helpful suggestions.
Fatima, right, was the first victim of rape in the north who met with AP in 2013. Animata Sissoko, left, is an animator from Sini Sanuman.
Fatima, shown in this photo, covered her face and sobbed as she recalled how she had been raped by Tuareg rebels in the northern town of Gao during the 2012 crisis. The act, as she described it, was brutal. When the rebels came to her house she told them she was menstruating and begged them to leave her alone. They laughed and took turns to rape her in front of her children. By this time her husband had disappeared and was presumed dead. Fatima had no money and no extended family to help her. She just knew she had to leave.
Fatima was the first victim of war rape in Mali who met with AP in 2013, and her story was sadly typical. The year-long “occupation” of the north by Tuareg rebels and Islamists was particularly harsh on women. Women were publicly beaten for not wearing a veil, for smoking, for riding a motorcycle, or for bathing in the river. Hundreds were raped, in public or in front of their families and husbands. Thousands were driven from their homes after losing animals and crops.
Forced marriage served as a cover for rape. One of the early beneficiaries from Sini Sanuman’s program, a 14 year-old girl, was “married” to nine Islamic fighters at the same time. (The fighters paid a dowry of 4.5 million CFA to her father in a perverse attempt to justify the act.) Another woman remembered how Islamists had broken into the family store and beat her husband. She brought her paralyzed husband and six children to Bamako and was now supporting the entire family by recycling plastic bags.
The memories of these traumatic events have remained vivid and they are reflected in the graphic images of the second Alafia Mali quilt. As of 2016, survivors were still coming to Sini Sanuman’s centers deeply traumatized and in need of emergency care
Mariam Sidda Maiga lived through the occupation in the north by jihadists in 2012. She says that many women resisted by going about their normal lives.
The other feature of this crisis is economic. Many of the 2012 survivors remain in a state of extreme poverty, having lost their husbands, their belongings and their land. This has been worsened by the destruction of state services during the 2012 occupation and subsequent threats against government workers – as of 2016 many schools remain shut in the north because teachers have been threatened or fled. Even the climate has turned hostile. According to the UN, over two million Malians in the north are facing a food shortage.
The situation of displaced women in Bamako is little better. More and more IDPs are moving between communes in search of work, only to find that they lack a support system once they leave familiar surroundings. This makes them forget basic precautions, and leaves them vulnerable to SGBV. Sini Sanuman animators have recorded a series of sexual attacks on girls, some as young as six months.
Given the magnitude of this crisis, any response must address the economic crisis as well as the psychological and medical needs of survivors. The challenge is not to help survivors recover – one doubts whether anyone ever recovers from rape – but to regain their confidence and re-enter society. For this, they must earn a living and learn a skill.
There is much to work with because the women of Mali have shown great courage during and since the occupation. Mariam Sidda Maiga, pictured below, works as an embroidery trainer at the Bourem center and lived through the occupation in 2012. She said that many women simply stayed indoors during the occupation rather than wear a burka. Resistance in such a context can also mean caring for family-members after an attack, organizing family members to move hundreds of miles to Bamako, moving into a temporary shelter with strangers, or seeking a job to make ends meet.
This gives reason for hope. Survivors of SGBV in Mali are hard-working and keen to take advantage of opportunities that come their way. The women profiled on these pages are an inspiration to us all.
The Community-based Response
Animators like Mariam Seck help vulnerable women in Bamako, Gao and Bourem to reduce their exposure to GBV
This campaign builds on years of advocacy on behalf of Malian women by Sini Sanuman (“Healthy Tomorrow”). Sini Sanuman’s earlier work on excision put the organization in a strong position to respond to the mass rape in northern Mali in 2012 and the organization referred over 200 women for medical treatment, with funding from UNICEF. The current campaign draws on some of the lessons learned during that that first exposure to the crisis.
The campaign’s first goal is to reach out to vulnerable women. This is done by thirteen “animators” in the capital Bamako and the northern town of Bourem who organize meetings through local associations and explain how women can reduce their exposure to sexual and gender based violence (GBV), as explained on this page.
The animators also identify survivors of sexual violence who would benefit from Sini Sanuman’s emergency support and training. Campaign animators organized 2,135 meetings in 2016 alone and have met with more than 10,000 women since 2014.
Emergency Support for Women
Instead of referring women to hospitals, as happened in 2012, the campaign offers its own services that are designed to address the physical and emotional needs of survivors at three centers in Bamako and the town of Bourem in northeast Mali. The first two centers opened in June 2014. In January 2017 the campaign opened a third center in the sixth commune of Bamako, which is the point of entry for all displaced persons arriving from the north. A fourth center is scheduled to open in the northern town of Gao, in July 2017.
With malnutrition rising in Mali, food is an important part of Sini Sanuman’s emergency services for survivors
The first two centers took in 60 women in 2014 and 240 in 2015. The number fell to 120 in 2016 because the period of training was extended to six months. The women travel to the centers at their own expense and return home at the end of each day, although the Bamako center also provides five beds for women who have a particularly long commute or cannot not bear to be alone.
Many of these women are in need of care and the campaign has hired two psychologists who screen the women on their arrival and departure. The centers also offer one cooked meal a day in Bamako. Beneficiaries in Bourem receive two meals because they start much earlier in the day and cross two rivers before reaching the center.
Rounding off the emergency services, the campaign covers the cost of treating infectious and contagious conditions. Sini Sanuman had hoped to add legal services – an important part of recovery – but decided to refer such cases to other NGOs with more legal expertise. Unfortunately, this got bogged down in Mali’s fragile legal system. Forced to act on its own initiative, Sini Sanuman has helped several survivors to submit complaints and secured at least one conviction, but such successes depend very much on individual judges. For more on the emergency support visit this page.
Sini savon – Soap Training
The center trains survivors to make soap, embroidery and clothes. This is intended to provide the women with skills that will help them find work and restore their confidence. Soap is particularly appropriate because it is easy to make and widely sold at markets.
Fatimata and other trainees sell their soap at the local market. Selling their own soap brings in money and boosts confidence.
The campaign makes two types of soap, from palm oil and from shea butter (beurre de kerite). By the end of 2014 trainees had produced 780 bars under the brand name of Sini Savon as well as 75 liters of all-purpose liquid soap.
In 2015 the campaign began purchasing shea butter oil from a cooperative of village women, the Ane Association, who can be seen making the oil in this video. The oil is then taken to the Bamamo center where it is used to make shea butter soap as shown in this video. Once hardened, the soap is rounded by hand, packed into cartons sold at markets. The two centers produced 4,253 bars in 2015 and the proceeds were ploughed back into the Sini Savon bank account.
At this stage the training was seen as a form of emergency support for survivors, who received an investment grant of 10,000 when their training ended. But in May 2016 the campaign decided to put the soap project on a more professional footing and pay the trainees a serious wage. With help from Peace Fellow Rose Twagirumukiza, the trainers added new scent to the soap, purchased new molds, built a storage shed at the Bamako center and began keeping records.
The trainers also divided their trainees into teams and sent them off to markets with the promise that they would keep 60% of what they sold. An AP mission to Mali in October accompanied one team to the local market for some exuberant haggling, as described in this press release. The investment paid off and by the end of 2016 sales had exceeded the target of 25,000 bars. Back in the US, AP sold several cartons of soap with help from students at George Washington University and launched two appeals on Global Giving. These had generated over $7,000 for Sini Savon by the end of 2016.
Looking ahead, the campaign hopes to extend the soap training outside the centers and support trainees after they leave the centers. In a test case, AP has invested $1,000 in the Moussou Kalanso women’s soap cooperative on the understanding that the group with recruit former trainees. Such partnerships, it is hoped, will allow the campaign to reach new beneficiaries outside the centers. For more on the soap training visit this page.
Sini couture – Training Tailors
The program trains women to make and mend clothes. This training has been much in demand from the start because tailoring can bring in an income and also help women to mend clothes for their families. But there were some early challenges. Most of the women had no experience of sewing machines and it became clear that three months of training was insufficient. Training was extended to 6 months and limited to 20 beneficiaries who showed an aptitude for tailoring. Trainees spend the first four months on sewing machines, and the last two months making clothes.
Worn with pride: Aimaya and Doumou at the F. Djanguinebougou school in their new uniforms.
In 2016 the campaign began to make school uniforms for students from poor families,. It was left to the two mayors to decide which schools would benefit and the Mayor of Bamako insisted that the program produce uniforms for no fewer than 19 schools. This created a huge amount of work for the campaign team, because all of the students have to be measured separately. In addition, most of the schools used a different design and cloth. The other concern was that students who did not receive uniforms might be jealous.
The campaign made two visits to Bamako schools in 2016 to check on these concerns as described on this inner page. During the first visit to the Ecole C Doumanzana school we watched as two beneficiaries from the Bamako center measured fourteen students for their uniforms. The boys later received trousers and a shirt; the girls were given a dress. Mr Bouba Kane, a school director, was enthusiastic and grateful. He explained that the uniforms would last two years and save each family 6,000 CFA ($9.2).
A campaign team visited a second school, the Ecole F. Djanguinebougou, in October. Relatively few students wore uniforms of any kind, but the Sini Sanuman uniforms were appreciated and appeared sturdy enough to withhold the strain of the classroom (photo).
The second goal of the tailoring program is help trainees find work once they leave the centers. This has not been easy. In 2015, AP met one former beneficiary, Sabine, who worked for three days at a small tailoring business to gain further experience – but without pay. The following year, we met with two former trainees who were employed at a local shop five days a week for 1000 CFA a day. But six other former trainees were unable to afford the cost of traveling to work and had given up any attempt to find work.
There are, however, some unqualified success stories. Sirandou S developed a passion for tailoring while she was training at the Bamako center and opened her own shop after leaving the center with a generous contribution from her husband. When we visited her in October 2016, Sirandou was training 30 young women and employing three others. The campaign offered to buy her more sewing machines and cover part of her rent if she would hire five former trainees from the campaign. Sirandou was happy to agree. As with soap, the campaign hopes to develop more partnerships with entrepreneurs like Sirandou who offer the prospect of long-term employment to trainees. For more on tailoring visit this page.
Sini brodage – Embroidery Training
Needlework is not as central to Malian culture as the production of cloth, but it can be deeply therapeutic as well as being a useful skill. In 2014, the campaign decided to offer embroidery training and recruited two experienced trainers – Massaran Traore and Mariam Sidda Maiga – to start the ball rolling with help from AP Peace Fellow Giorgia Nicatore. Mariam Maiga in Bourem started with the basics and taught 15 basic stitches that she had learned from her mother. Things moved faster at the Bamako center, where Massaran Traore purchased large amounts of bright cloth and encouraged her students to use their creativity.
Made in Mali: Trainer Abi Konate with her trainees and their Camel Quilt.
Initially, both centers encountered problems with design. Asked to “describe their lives” through embroidery the women did not know where to start. So the campaign asked two art students to help the women translate their ideas into designs. This produced some shocking images, and several artists wept as they explained their designs to visitors. Giorgia Nicatore brought the squares back to the US where they were assembled into two striking quilts by the PM Fiber Arts Guild in Bethesdaas described on this page.
By 2016 it was time to see if the trainees could produce embroidery for sale and the trainers began to instruct their pupils in the making of seat cushions, curtains and table cloths, all of which are sold at markets. The trainees also began to produce delightful designs featuring camels which were brought back to the US for assembly into quilts. AP took one quilt back to Mali, where it was enthusiastically received at the Bamako center. Helped by their trainers, Abi Konate and Massaran Traore, the trainees produced their own Camel Quilt, full of color and spontaneity (photo). Impressed, a Bamako hotel ordered its own Camel Quilt – the first-ever advocacy quilt to be produced and sold locally outside the United States.
The campaign hopes to build on this promising start in 2017. Trainees will produce 100 high-quality embroidered squares and turn the fifty best squares into quilts and wall hangings, while AP and Sini Sanuman will seek out markets in Mali and the US. Click here for more on the embroidery training.
Women at the Center of Development
Between 2014 and 2016 this campaign offered emergency support for women undergoing a personal crisis. Some may question the need, given that the 2012 crisis is receding and there are no reports of widespread sexual violence linked to the conflict. In response we would say that the north remains deeply insecure. There is always a risk that extremism will return, bringing with it hatred and violence against women.
It is more important than ever to offer an alternative vision of Mali’s future – a vision that empowers and embraces women. This explains the decision to expand the campaign in the north and open a new center in Gao. The need is great because Gao has the largest undeclared number of rape survivors in Mali. Equally important, however, investing in women strengthens families and society. This campaign can show the way in one of Africa’s more troubled regions.
With many thanks to…
Taylor Adams, Jaime Alvarez, Christopher Anzivino, Barbara Ayotte, Mathilde Barbosa, Frederick Bartlett, Seble Beranu, Alexsndra Bezeredi, Kate Bisbee, Kate Bollinger, Margaret Brennan, Cathy Calhoun, Marisa Campbell, Hannah Chi, Mary Clark, Paul Critser, Elizabeth Cullen, Paola Di Stefano, Meagan Donahue, Anne Dronnier, Lorenzo Dutto, Elizabeth Eng, Sarah Farhat, Sherri Gajewksi, Barbara Geiser, Didier Godat, Devin Greenleaf, Thierry Groell, Iain Guest, Shannon Holland, Rachael Hughen, Maria Rosaria Iorio, Soren Jespersen, Lucyna Jodlowska, Lisa Johnson, Cheryl & Mark Kaplan, Megan Kelly, Sheila Kelly, Judith Khan, Adam Knight, Joanne Koch, Marianne Krey-Jacobsen, Peter Kristensen, Sumir Lal, Annapina Laraia, Judith Leff, Rita Lo, Merry May, Lynn Misiak, Claudia Mordini, Luniya Msuku, Nada Mufarrij, Joseph Orr, Karin Orr, Tindaro Paganini, Laura Palma, Stuart Rick, Jeff Robinson, Paolo Rondelli, Gian Paolo Ruggiero, Andrew Rushing, Madison Salters, Sarosh Sattar, Kay Scanlan, Héma Sibi, David Silver, Vivek Srivastava, Sebastian Stolorz, Dr. Richard Tanenbaum, Jonathan Ustun, Sila Cameselle Vila, Fanny Weiner, Rebecca Wolfe, Cara Young, Yongmei Zhou, Breet Ziegler
||Luigi Laraia, an advisor to the Italian Executive Director at the World Bank, climbed Mount Denali in Alaska and dedicated his climb to the soap-makers. Luigi’s appeal on Global Giving has raised almost $7,000. The money will be used to cover the cost of soap materials at the Bamako and Bourem centers, and rent a workshop where the soap-makers of the Moussou Kalanso women’s group can make soap every week.
||Rose Twagirumukiza served as the 2016 Peace Fellow at Sini Sanuman. Her Global Giving appeal raised $930 for the soap project.
||Rachel Hughen (left), a former AP intern, teamed up with her colleagues from the running team at George Washington University to sell Sini Savon shea butter soap at the Georgetown Fair in Washington, DC.