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Fatoumata Bouaré: Encouraging women and girls in Mali to pursue their studies

Fatoumata Bouaré: Encouraging women and girls in Mali to pursue their studies

She is the first woman in her community to obtain a master’s degree and has more than twenty years of experience in the defense of human rights. Today, she is a Socio-Anthropologist and the Gender Equality and Community Action Manager for Lawyers Without Borders in Bamako, capital city of Mali. She also proudly participated to the recent 41st edition of Equitas’ International Human Rights Training Program (IHRTP). She is Fatoumata Bouaré.

When Fatoumata began her first year of primary school, she was part of a cohort of 74 students, and by sixth grade, only 18 remained. Of those 18, only 3 went on to higher education; two boys, and her. Fatoumata was still in primary school when she had decided she wanted to go to university, but not everyone in her community agreed with this.

“Very quickly, I had the conviction to pursue my studies to the end. When I would go fetch water, the elder women of my community would come see me and try to discourage me from continuing my studies.Despite the lack of encouragement, when she completed primary school, Fatoumata had the highest grade in the final exam.

It is indeed uncommon in Mali for girls to finish their studies, as in general, they are de-schooled before the end of primary school by their parents, or not registered in school at all, often to support with household chores or to be married. These are merely two of the countless forms of gender-based violence that limit the choices available to women for how they can live their lives and that hinder the full realization of their rights. Gender norms in Fatoumata’s community are at the root of these issues, but Fatoumata does not believe women are destined to the domestic sphere or family.  For her, education is a synonym of agency.

One of the main causes of de-schooling that Fatoumata wishes to address is the subtle but undeniable link with forced and/or early marriages of young girls. Poverty and financial insecurity compel a high number of families to de-school their daughters for marriage, even if that is not necessarily what they might want for her.

Fatoumata makes sure a gender lens is integrated into her organization’s elaboration of strategies, politics and action plans, to support her mission of giving back the power that is rightfully theirs to the women. Furthermore, she collaborates with partner grassroots organizations in the design of educational trainings on various human rights issues, including de-schooling of children, especially girls. The aim of these sessions is to enable participants to understand their rights and disseminate their knowledge afterwards to others to help them in turn.

When Fatoumata submitted her application for the IHRTP held by Equitas,

During the IHRTP, Fatoumata had the chance to travel to Ottawa with other participants and the Equitas team to meet the Honourable Harjit Sajjan, Minister of International Development, and talk about his work to advance gender equality.

recognized for its quality expertise in human rights education, she initially did it to discover new approaches to her work. During the three weeks of the training, what she learns goes well beyond her expectations:

“I learned that the fight for human rights cannot happen without a true coalition of human rights defenders,” one that exceeds geographic and cultural borders. “I learned about experiences other than mine.

The learning spiral and the culture of human rights, two concepts endorsed and taught by Equitas, particularly struck her. She now seeks to incorporate those at the heart of the activities of Lawyers Without Borders in Mali, by applying their principles in their trainings and sharing her knowledge with her colleagues so that their work has a greater impact in the community. She also desires to take inspiration from Equitas’ activities with young Canadians to foster the participation and education of Malian youth on gender equality.

For Fatoumata, every opportunity to promote the inclusion of all people must be taken: “We have to get involved so that girls, women, and other disadvantaged layers of society can access their rights, understand their rights, seek to exercise those rights, and help others to overcome inequalities.” Her newly acquired knowledge from her experience at the IHRTP is just another step in the right direction.