Mali is suffering from a threefold crisis, encompassing security issues as well as humanitarian and political concerns.
Since 17 January, the population in the north of the country has been severely affected by armed conflict. Physical insecurity has led to the exodus of more than 200,000 people, with three regions being occupied by armed groups. Food insecurity is also affecting more than three million people.
Meanwhile, the military coup d’état has led to the breakdown of constitutional order and engendered a severe political crisis.
A framework-agreement was signed on 6 April between the junta that has assumed power, with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which has enabled Interim President, Dionkounda Traoré, to be appointed.
With support and assistance provided by UN Women, a delegation of four women from REPSFECO/Mali, a women’s peace and security network, was sent to Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, to participate in the transitional negotiations that took place between 15-17 April.
During the process, the President of the Network, Saran Keita, read a Declaration that had been drafted by network members for the transitional process. “It is unfortunate that women, who make up 51.7 percent of the Malian population, are not well represented at these crucial moments of decision-making,” she said.
Ms. Keita urged the President of Burkina Faso and official facilitator, Blaise Compaoré, to accept the decisive role of women in preventing and resolving conflict. She specified that, for the good of the country, women should “be present throughout the mediation process and participate in all mechanisms at all levels.” Their participation must be “on an equal footing with all other parties in efforts aimed at maintaining and promoting peace and security,” she added.
In the Declaration, Malian women demand, first and foremost, the implementation of “urgent measures to combat the raping of women and young girls by providing them with help and assistance.” They call for the guarantee of security for those most vulnerable among the various groups, especially displaced persons, “by taking into account the specific situation encountered by women and young girls.”
They also demand the unconditional liberation of the territory to the north of Mali, and the resolution of the conflict through dialogue rather than force.
The women also lobbied for the progressive return of the armed forces and national security personnel on the ground, and for them to be equipped with the appropriate resources. They called for the respect of commitments made in the framework-agreement, with “the preservation of a more peaceful climate, as well as increased dialogue amongst all involved.”
Boosted by these advocacy efforts, the women were able to ensure that their main demands were included as part of the final declaration. One of these stipulates that “the armed groups in the North of Mali are reminded of their obligation to protect the civilians and to scrupulously respect human rights; they are invited to put an immediate end to all forms of violence perpetrated against women and children.”
A UN Women review of a sample of 24 major peace processes since 1992 shows that female participation in global peace negotiations process has stagnated; such participation is 7 percent on average, with only 3.2 percent of the mediators being women. The active participation of female mediators in Ouagadougou is a decisive step forward.
Upon their return to Mali, the female mediators have continued their advocacy efforts with the assistance of the UN Women teams. This has included drafting a plan of action for mediation, targeting issues related to gender, security and the return to peace.