A message to the unsung heroes of Mali – and the world

15 octobre 2018

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  • folkeadmcenter
  • 2018

A message to the unsung heroes of Mali – and the world

Mali Folkecenter Nyetaa takes stock of activities aiming at improving conditions for rural women in Mali and elsewhere. The occasion is the International Day of Rural Women, today, 15 October.

“Rural women, our Yeleni, the backbone of Malian society, every day they are the first to wake up and the last ones to go to bed. They are the ones supporting Malian society in every possible way. But their roles and responsibilities are still not fully recognised as they should be, even if there are some positive efforts taking place”.

Minister of Environment, Keita Aïda M’bo

This is the message from Mali’s Minister for Environment, Sanitation and Sustainable Development, Mrs. Keita Aïda M’bo, to rural women in Mali.

The occasion is International Day of Rural Women that is celebrated every year on 15 October.

And the minister adds about the unheeded role of rural women:

“For Mali to achieve inclusive and sustainable development this must change. My Department, the Ministry of Environment, Sanitation and Sustainable Development together with Mali-Folkecenter Nyetaa, work with women associations and cooperatives, local authorities and other civil society actors as one of our priority areas”.

At MFC the message from the minister was received with agreement. MFC is aware of the role played by rural women, not only in Mali, but all over Africa.

And MFC fully agrees with the Minister that the hard work of rural women is unfortunately still not fully recognized.

Invisible work

Garalo Women’s Cooperative Nyetaa in southern Mali

This a reflection of the findings of various international organisations. UN Women, for instance, states repeatedly that the work of the worlds’ rural women “remains invisible and unpaid”.

On top of it, women and girls in rural areas lack equal access to almost everything: They very seldom own land and they receive less education and health care than men.

MFC is painfully aware of these facts and dedicates a lot of its activities to change conditions for rural women in Mali.

One such intervention concerns a community around Garalo in southern Mali.

Here MFC has established a garden for cash crop vegetables that will increase income for more than 200 women.

The location is carefully chosen: right in the middle of the small Garalo town, which gives the women easy access both to the garden and to the trade area in the region.

Mrs. Sata Samake of the Nyetaa Cooperative, Garalo

The women have organised themselves in a cooperative, named after MFC, “Nyetaa” and have established nine governing boards for all districts of Garalo.

This to ensure that all processes are carefully monitored – from planting, growing and upkeep, to the actual sale in regional markets.

The main crops are okra, tomato and watermelon, and next to the garden another income-generating project has been initiated: a shea nut processing unit that produces shea butter for sale as well. As of now the cooperative has become financially independent.

Women as decision-makers

Another project to the benefit of rural women is the MFC-initiated cooperative Sinsibéré based in Bougoula some 60 kilometres south of Bamako.  This cooperative has been autonomous now for 3 years, running without project money.

The sustainability of Sinsibéré is due to the women’s persistent focus on income-generating activities to replace cutting and selling wood. Instead the women grow and sell agricultural produce and share a conscientious regard for the protection of the environment.

With the words of Aminata Barry, Head of Gender and Economic Development at MFC the project “started a process of empowerment and emancipation that affected the power of decision for the women”.

The efforts were fruitful:

Some women from the cooperative are now elected members of the local government. Some are communal counsellors and others are advisers.

Mrs. Barry is proud to call the project one of Mali Folkecenter’s “great successes” but warns that “we still need to pay close attention to the vulnerability of rural women and the fragile environment. Rural women still need support to promote economic development and strengthen local decision-making”, says Mrs. Barry.

Gender gap

The same conclusion came out of a meeting organised by the African Union (AU) and the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) on the side-lines of the recent UN General Assembly in New York City.

FAO’s Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva said after the meeting that “we need to better recognise and harness the fundamental contribution of women to food security and nutrition. For that, we must close persisting gender gaps in agriculture in Africa”.

Also, UN Women recognizes that there is a considerable gender gap in rural areas.

The organisation has calculated that up to 60 percent of agricultural labour is carried out by women, while only 32 percent of women own agricultural lands across 27 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.

And a joint report by AU and FAO estimates that only 13 percent of women, compared to 40 percent of men, have exclusive ownership on all or part of the land they own.

Moreover, small farmers, and hence women, produce “80 per cent of food in Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa and support the livelihood of some 2.5 billion people”. But still women live in “disproportionally multi-dimensional poverty”.

Climate change and negative impact

International Day of Rural Women on 15 October also focuses on climate change and the particular negative impact on rural women.

UN Women: “Changes in the availability of these resources (water and fuel, ed.) due to climate-induced drought and scarcity affect the time and level of effort required to collect, secure, distribute and store these resources”.

In short: it takes longer time and more effort to collect water, which is predominantly work carried out by women.

Three UN commemoration days

Tuesday 16 October is another UN special day, “World Food Day” focusing on eradicating hunger, improving food security and fighting poverty. This year’s theme is “Change the future of Migration: Invest in Food Security and Rural Development”.

Yet a third commemorative day is held on 17 October) when the UN draw the world’s attention to poverty on “International Day for the Eradication of Poverty”.

That day will highlight rural women’s empowerment, their access to land, water and energy.

Hence, the spotlight will be on rural women’s crucial role in sustainable development for a full three days.

MFC fully supports these commemorative efforts, but as Mrs. Aminata Barry points out: “Rural women should be the focus of our attention all year long”.


Yeleni in the bambara language means “a lady who is working hard for the well-being of her family and her community and who is respected by the society”

International Day of Rural Women on 15 October was initiated during the fourth UN conference on women in Beijing in 1995.

Un Women is the United Nations’ Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women

Read the FAO report: “Leave no one behind” here:

World Food Day was instituted in 1979 by the three UN institutions FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation), WFP (World Food Programme) and IFAD (International Fund for Agricultural Development).

“International Day for the Eradication of Poverty” has been held since 1987 when the NGO ATD Fourth World introduced the day. Five years later, in 1992, the United Nations formally adopted the international day.

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