Mali’s Presidential Election took place on July 29, 2018. A run-off vote was held on August 12 between the top two candidates, incumbent Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and Soumaïla Cissé. The elections were marred with attacks and alleged irregularities at the polls; however the Constitutional Court of Mali validated the final results, officially declaring Ibrahim Boubacar Keita President. The 2018 Presidential Election included 24 vetted candidates for the presidency, including one woman, Djénéba N’diaye.
Mali has faced considerable instability since a military coup sparked separatist uprisings in 2012, stoking violence throughout the country. Prior to the coup, Mali had its first female Prime Minister, Cissé Mariam Kaïdama Sidibé appointed by then-President Amadou Toumani Touré. Her term lasted slightly under a year as both were removed from office and detained by the military junta. By 2013, elections were once again held and democratic rule was restored, although final peace agreements were concluded only in 2015.
The Republic of Mali is a parliamentary democracy with one chamber, the National Assembly. The Constitution of Mali (Article 2) guarantees the equality between men and women and explicitly prohibits gender discrimination. In 2015, the National Assembly adopted a quota law which states that 30% of elected or appointed public officials must be women. Within each political party, there are voluntary gender quotas. A General Election has been scheduled for October 28, 2018.
Women’s Political Participation
Djénéba N’diaye, the sole female candidate, ran as an independent candidate in the 2018 Election. Ms. N’diaye is a prominent businesswoman in Mali and has acted as a political advisor to former President François Bozizé. She campaigned on a promise to create more economic and education opportunities for youth and vowed to increase the representation of women in official positions from 30 % to 40%. The 2013 Presidential Election also featured one woman on the ballot. Aissata Cissé Haidara was a member of Mali’s parliament and a former travel agent. In the 2007 Presidential Election, Mali had its first female Presidential candidate, professor Sidibe Aminata Diallo.
Currently, 9% of the seats held in the National Assembly belong to women (from 2013 electoral data). This is a decrease from 10.2 % in the previous legislature and marks an even more notable decrease from the late 1990s where women’s representation in the National Assembly peaked at a high of 12%. Similarly, the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Score found that overall Mali’s rank has fallen from 99th place in 2006 to 139th in 2017. The Political Empowerment measure in Mali has particularly regressed from a rank of 67th (out of 115) to 99th (out of 144 countries). The report specifically highlights that 8.8% of women sat in Parliament compared to their male counterparts, who dominated the Assembly, holding 91.2% of the seats. Slightly more promising was the number of women holding ministerial positions (24.2%) compared to men (75.8%).
In the past several years Mali’s significant security and safety issues have disproportionately affected women as front-line victims of violence and stalled progress on women’s rights issues. However in the initial peace talks, there were only 3 Malian women out of 50 total delegates, though 8 women representing civil society groups later joined 3 government agents as part of different negotiations. It is worth noting this falls short of the recommendations of UNSCR 1325 (the Security Council’s Resolution on including women in peace negotiations and protecting women and girls from armed conflict); this is of note particularly as Mali was one of the Non-Permanent Members who voted in favour of UNSCR 1325 in 2000. Despite the limited involvement of women in the peace talks, the Malian Platform of Women Leaders followed up in June 2015 submitting a statement of priorities for women to the President. Their statement asked specifically for the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission to be composed of 50% women, but also included similar recommendations for other advisory committees as well. These requests were what led to the 30% quota adopted by the government later in 2015 and Mali’s second National Action Plan 2015-2017 which promised implementation of UNSCR 1325.
Mali has a limited number of other frameworks to protect women’s rights. Its originally restrictive Family Code of 1962 was further amended in 2011, overtly declaring men as the de-facto heads of households and obstructing the rights of divorced and widowed women. As of 2018, the African Court on Human and People’s Rights found the Family Code to be contravening Mali’s obligation to ensure women’s inheritance rights, right to consent to marriage as well as a minimum age of marriage and women’s and girl’s rights to be protected from harmful social practices (such as Female Genital Mutilation). In terms of treatment of boys versus girls, there appears to be a slight son bias, with boys receiving preferential treatment in early childhood care and in terms of education where 49.1% of boys aged 15-19 have never been to school compared to 61.1% of girls the same age.
While Djénéba N’diaye lobbied for an increase from 30% to 40% in the national gender quota and likewise the Platform of Women Leaders recommended a 50% cut-off, the 2015 gender quota of 30% has mostly failed to increase the number of women in parliament or publicly appointed positions. A small sign of encouragement came in the local elections in 2016, where more women were represented on electoral lists. Other than this instance, it remains to be seen how effective the 2015 quota legislation and promises from President Keita regarding implementing UNSCR 1325, will be in the future.
Overall, ongoing threats of violence have significantly destabilised Mali, largely overshadowing calls from women’s rights groups and Malian women themselves to include women in the political process and peace negotiations. Furthermore, redressing the 2011 Family Code faces strong resistance from segments of the national Islamic Council, which could further inhibit women’s rights in regards to inheritance rights, rights of widowed and divorced women, protection from FGM and their ability to consent to marriage. Nevertheless, President Keita has made past promises to further encourage the implementation of UNSCR 1325 and the 30% gender quota. The proposed October General Election will be an opportunity to see whether the distribution of female candidates meets the 30% quota and whether future appointees to government committees are women.