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Concerns for women’s rights in Mali as result of new family law code

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Aisling Marks
WVoN co-editor

Following the introduction of a new family law code in the west African country of Mali earlier this year, women’s rights groups say that it has led to greater discrimination.

“The new law brings women’s rights back to more than 50 years ago because some rights women had in the former law have been banned,” said Safiatou Doumbia, a member of the Malian Association for Care and Assistance to Women and Children.

A strongly patriarchal society (only 31 per cent of women compared to 47 per cent of men can read and write), women activists have been campaigning for years for a new family code to improve the legal rights of women.

Although an amendment to the 1962 code was adopted by the National Assembly in 2009, it was withdrawn following uproar from conservative Muslim groups.

The amendment would have recognised only civil marriages, entitling divorcees to a share of the inheritance; given women greater inheritance rights than those allowed under Shariah law; and raised the legal age for marriage to 18, among other changes.

But women in Mali are facing other challenges as a result of the rising power of fundamentalists in the north of the country.
In an interview on the Open Democracy website, a leading women’s rights activist warned that as Islamic fundamentalists gain power in the north, they have started to talk about imposing restrictions on the ways that women dress.
She says she is “deeply concerned about the way that the fundamentalists have begun to limit women’s rights -  starting with the way that women dress. It is a sign of what is going to happen next.
“Women in Mali have a long history as market traders, they move around and interact freely in public and wear the clothing that they want. These changes are going to have a major impact and cause a lot of stress for women”.  

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