UN Women - United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women

Q&A with Saran Keïta Diakité and Traoré Oumou Touré from Mali on their participation in Mali’s peace negotiations

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Date: 02 May 2012

L-R: Maitre Soyata Maiga, Saran Keïta Diakité, President of women's peace and security network REPSFECO/Mali, and Diarra Afoussatou Thiero attend a UN Women training on mediation prior to attending peace negotiations in Ouagadougou. Credit : REPSFECO/Mali

Plunged into an unprecedented crisis following the military coup d'état perpetrated on 22 March 2012 by a military junta, the Malian authorities have embarked upon a process of transition. With the help of UN Women, women in Mali have been represented at the negotiating table.

Saran Keïta Diakité and Traoré Oumou Touré, together with two other women, participated as female mediators in negotiations, held from 15-17 April in Ouagadougou, the capital of neighbouring country, Burkina Faso.

Saran Keïta Diakité is a lawyer registered with the Bar in Mali, and President of the Malian branch of the Réseau paix et Sécurités des Femmes, an organization belonging to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

Traoré Oumou Touré is the president of Coordination des Organisations Féminines du Mali (CAFO), an umbrella organization that brings together over 2000 women's associations.

Had you ever participated in negotiations at the national or international level?

Saran Keïta Diakité: It was a first for me. I had attended negotiation processes to accompany the Femmes Africa Solidarité organization, but this time I was actively involved as the main female participant, at the heart of the various debates and discussions.

Traoré Oumou Touré: I wouldn't qualify them as negotiations, but I did participate in mediation processes with CAFO, an organization that I have presided over for the past two decades. We were present from the first hours of the democratic process in Mali.

We have participated in all mediation initiatives pertaining to Mali: between the government and the trade unions, the government and the Students' Association, following various crises within the educational system, not to mention mediation with religious leaders, the Malian Human Rights Association, the trade unions, and so on.

What have you learnt by participating in the training session organized by UN Women, and how was it beneficial to you before, during and after the events at Ouagadougou?

SKD: The workshop was very helpful, both for the members of REPSFECO/Mali (a women's peace and security network), and for all the women who had got involved outside of the negotiation process. We have developed a strategy that will enable us to reach all women - from the grassroots level upward - so that they can make their contribution to mediation efforts, and overall peace. The training has allowed us to enhance our knowledge of the various UN legal texts and resolutions, especially Resolutions 1325, 1820, 1880 and 1889.

TOT: Prior to the Ouagadougou encounter, we had certain knowledge of what mediation entails, thanks to information gathered on the first day of the workshops. The presentation on the techniques and principles of mediation, as well as the skills needed to be a good mediator, were crucial. Strengthened by this training and knowledge, we were able to quickly assess our role as mediators.

We were not surprised by the way in which the debates were organized and the importance placed on the discussions. In fact it felt like we were in familiar territory, as if we had applied the notions previously acquired. Women must draw inspiration from such experiences; participation in the Ouagadougou encounter will enable us to fulfill our roles during the rest of the process. In other words, we will be able to influence the quality of the discussions, coupled with the pursuit of mediation efforts.

In your opinion, what value have female delegates added to the discussions in Ouagadougou?

SKD: We started advocacy initiatives as soon as we were informed of what was contained in the Ouagadougou Declaration by the appointed mediator, Burkina Faso's Right Honorable Minister of Foreign Affairs. We approached our fellow male and female delegates through the religious orders present in Mali, in order to present a united front and agree on the essential points to resolve the crisis.

TOT: The added value we brought to the table is that we know why we went to Ouagadougou: to compensate for the low level of female participation in the discussions. Out of a delegation totaling 80 persons, there were only 10 women from different walks of life (political parties, civil society, and nuns).

We went to represent the Malian branch of Réseau Paix et Sécurité belonging to ECWAS; they gave us our mandate and that gave us strength. Our intervention dealt with key issues and demands: on one hand, the involvement of women at all levels of the mediation process and on the other hand, putting an end to the violence that the various populations have fallen victim to since the occupation of the Northern regions of Mali, especially women and children. Faced with such a situation, humanitarian aid must be organized as a matter of urgency.

What lessons have you learned from the support that you have received?

TOT: The UN Women office in Mali enabled us to be present in Ouagadougou. It is on behalf of all the male and female actors that we traveled to a third country, Burkina Faso, to participate in such negotiations and within such a context.

Before going to Ouagadougou, we needed first and foremost to understand each other and decide upon the key points to be defended. Two aspects are now shared by all parties concerned: firstly, democracy must be restored by reinstating the various institutions and, secondly, peace must reign.

SKD: We would like to thank UN Women for paying for the expenses involved in traveling to Ouagadougou, and we are also very grateful for their funding of the workshop that enabled a plan of action to be drafted, including the strategies and activities. Strategies to resolve the crisis using different scenarios have been developed. Starting from this point, plans of action and definitions of initiatives to be implemented have been set up.

These include raising public awareness, and taking responsibility for all displaced persons and guaranteeing their social integration and return to their area of origin. REPSFECO will put the final touches to its plan of action, which will be submitted to the various partners, including UN Women, so as to be able to finance priority initiatives. We are going to mobilize the entire United Nations System around this plan of action in order to implement all proposed initiatives to promote peace.