Activist Rokia Doumbia made headlines in Mali on 13 March when she was arrested for posting a TikTok video denouncing high inflation levels and criticizing the transition’s record. Beyond the reactions provoked by her message, Doumbia’s commitment reflects a growing trend among Malian women who want to be part of their country’s political changes.
Just days before, several women participated in a ceremony marking International Women’s Day at Bamako’s Modibo Keïta stadium, to remind the authorities of the obstacles limiting their involvement in political processes.
Since the 2020 legislative elections, the number of Malian women in the National Assembly has tripled. Of the 147 deputies, 42 are women – up from just 14 appointed after the 2013 elections. The increase is largely due to Law 052 passed in 2015, which identifies measures to promote gender equality in nominated and elected positions and sets a minimum quota of 30% for each gender.
However, many official bodies presiding over the current transition don’t meet this quota. Women make up only six of the 28 members of government (21%), and 42 of the 147 members of the National Transitional Council (29%). Four of the 15 members (27%) of the Independent Electoral Management Authority formed in January are women, and 11 of the 69 members (16%) of the commission drafting the new constitution are women.
More generally across the country’s administrative bodies, in 2021 only 15% of directors of central services and 11% of ambassadors were women.
Despite this, Malian women are determined to play a role in rebuilding the new Mali (Mali Kurain Bambara) envisioned by the transitional authorities. The desire not to remain on the sidelines has prompted some women, from philanthropists to activists, to get more involved in the social and political arenas.
Women were less visible during the protests that led to President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta’s resignation in 2020. Now they are showing their commitment by regularly participating in activities and demonstrations supporting the transition.
Some are involved in charity initiatives to promote peace and social cohesion. Others aim to increase the institutional representation of women to influence decision-making. They base their hopes on the inclusion of gender as one of five strategic axes in the document for rebuilding the nation, including an electoral law requiring candidate lists to meet gender quotas.
Women’s groups are also trying to shape ongoing political processes. One prominent group involves the Women’s Collective of Mali, the Network of African Women Ministers and Parliamentarians, and the coordination of women’s associations and non-governmental organizations. They have come together to implement Talking Tree – a project through which Mali’s women call for a greater role in political life, reform, and the electoral process.
Following negotiations with traditional authorities and with the help of local government, these organizations have created women-only spaces for dialogue in the Gao, Timbuktu, Mopti, Ségou, and Bamako regions. With state support, they have carried out several activities, such as awareness-raising sessions on new electoral and gender equality laws.
These activities helped ascertain women’s expectations for the transition and elections. They also informed the recommendations adopted at the Territorial Administration and Promotion of Women ministries’ gender seminar in February and March. The roadmap produced at the seminar aims to accelerate the mainstreaming of gender in the electoral process and political and administrative reforms.
Since women make up 50.4% of the population, they are an important section of the electorate. With preparations for the polls starting in a few months, women want to increase their official representation by drawing on the new electoral act that requires a gender balance on candidate lists.
As political parties restructure before the elections, some prominent women interviewed by the Institute for Security Studies will urge parties to ensure women make up at least 50% of candidates. They also want several women at the top of party lists.
However, the opportunities presented by the transition are limited, and women face many challenges. Some are structural, as religious and cultural beliefs in Malian society promote the dominance of men in the public and private spheres. Others are economic and educational, with several factors limiting women’s opportunities to develop their skills and aspirations to take on higher responsibilities.
The transitional authorities must commit to giving Malian women more opportunities to participate in political life. This requires strict application of Law 052 and Article 78 of the electoral act. The government should also increase women's institutional and administrative representation in transitional bodies to at least 30%, as required by law.
However, the ultimate goal extends beyond the numbers and the slogans. Women need a substantial role in the transition, along with radical changes in political operations and women’s rights during and after the transition.