They love to dress up on a daily basis and they carry themselves like queens. One of these days I will dedicate an entire post to local fashion to show them in all their glory!
Part of that awesome posture is derived from the fact that they are trained from early on to carry heavy loads on their heads (and bodies).
The women of Mali are fascinating and I hope I will gain more insights into their culture and daily lives during my stay here. I see them every day in the streets of Bamako. They usually carry heavy loads. If they are walking with a man by their side, his hands are usually almost empty.
If they have a little baby, they carry it on their backs, held there by a long piece of cloth they knot on their breast – to me it looks kind of uncomfortable but obviously that’s one of these things… the little one’s feet stick out at the mother’s waist in the front – a very cute sight 🙂
The women also seem to be very busy, while groups of men can be seen sitting in the shade at the side of the road – I don’t want to pass judgement here because I don’t know enough about their lives, so please just take this as an observation.
When we went out to Siby, we had a chance to see more of the female society in Mali. The goal of the festival and the „Concours des maisons décorées de Siby“ in Siby is to develop simple, sustainable and cost-efficient techniques to raise the standard of living of the people in the rural areas of Mali.
Another important aspect though, is to foster the involvement of the women and thereby to strengthen their role in the community. A post-conflict society per se is disrupted, which means that essentially everybody must find his or her place in the emerging society. That is especially true for the most vulnerable elements of that society, among these quite often women and children.
The chgallenge is improving the situation of women in society – without changing their general role though. We as foreigners should not impose our standards on Mali but try to ease need and to assist the needy. This might be as easy as this: As I said women here very often carry huge loads on their heads and even though they train for that from early on, it is very taxing on their bodies. Their plight might be eased for example by giving them a donkey cart to transport the heavy burdens. To be fair, there are also similar efforts to assist men (e.g. by giving them bicycles), but it is necessary to constantly reevaluate where help is needed most and where it will achieve the best results.
So, the women being rewarded with useful domestic tools for their involvement in the „Concours des maisons décorées de Siby“ should not be seen as a reinforcement of gender stereotypes but as a measure to assist them in their daily life.
Being the owner of a fancy new piece of equipment also alters their status within the community and improves life for everybody else as well, since these tools will be shared – Malian society is characterized by a very strong sense of solidarity, especially when it comes to families. As a matter of fact, experience has shown that including women in the peace process usually leads to a better implementation of agreements as well… but you simply cannot change a society from the outside, you have to carefully empower the vulnerable groups to support change from the inside.