In this post from Justice Hub, Bintou Founé Samaké, president of the Malian NGO Women and Law in Development in Africa talks about the importance of civil society action in the struggle for gender justice and equality in Africa.
“I’m a lawyer. I entered the legal world very early. My first years in high school coincided with demands by students for their right to have better living conditions. I decided that I also wanted to be involved so that we could take people’s needs into account. We were very young. We organised ourselves to wage this battle. Since then, I told myself that together we can move forward.
“I didn’t come from a poor family. Both my parents worked, so I could eat three times a day. They weren’t very rich, but they weren’t poor. After I got my high school diploma, the Malian government gave me a scholarship to study abroad. I studied international law in Kiev, Ukraine.
“I personally got involved in women’s issues. I noticed in my country that women form the majority, but women are still under the yoke of customs and traditions, which often are obstacles to their development. Women are always under somebody’s control. When a women is born, she’s under her father’s control. When a woman marries, her husband becomes her guardian. And if the husband dies, the women falls under the control of her eldest son or one of her husband’s brothers. So women are always being controlled. We told ourselves that we have to remove barriers. We don’t need to launch a revolution to achieve that, but we have to make men and women understand that both of them must work together for development.
“For me, justice means that everyone’s rights are respected, that we don’t allow people who are in power to bully someone else. Someone who is in power should not be able to suppress others or violate other people’s rights. As long as this justice doesn’t exist, we won’t be able to live in peace.
“It’s very important for me to be here at the International Criminal Court today [when the judges heard the accusations against the Malian Islamist, Al Mahdi al Faqi] because somewhere barriers have been overturned. In some way those monuments in Timbuktu [that he is accused of destroying] belong to me too. I’m a practicing Muslim. I believe that by attacking those monuments, they were attacking part of the Muslim religion. Those monuments were a reference point for an entire population, an entire nation and even the world because there are people who come from everywhere to pray at those mausoleums. They talk about their lives to these monuments. It’s as if – in Jerusalem – someone demolished the Wailing Wall with a bulldozer. That would be the end of the world. So those monuments, that’s what they represent for us. It’s as if someone had crushed our honor, our dignity.”