At least 300 women are victims of sexual violence every year in Bamako, according to local police records, but the actual figure is much higher said the president of the Bamako-based non-profit, Women in Law and Development in Africa.
“Victims and their families rarely denounce rapists in order to preserve the family’s dignity and honour,” said the group’s president Sidibe Djenba Diop, “Rape cases are on the rise, yet neither the [Malian] culture nor its laws recognise, yet, that rape is an act of violence against women.”
The group recently released results from a year-long study on women’s vulnerability to sexual violence. Based on police reports, the study noted at least one reported case of rape every four days, with the police launching a new investigation every week. But these inquiries rarely lead to any punishment, said Diop.
“Lack of understanding about this phenomenon, erroneous perceptions, indifference, and at worst, society’s tolerance worsens impunity.”
According to Bamako police inspector Boubacar Maiga, six people were sentenced to prison for sexual violence thus far in 2008, three of them for a period of six months, and the others for two years.
In 2007, Maiga told IRIN two people were sentenced to six months of prison time, and about US$40 each in fines to the victims’ families. Two people were found guilty as accomplices, and each served six months’ jail time.
President of a women’s legal clinic in Bamako, Dourte Djeneba Dembele, told IRIN laws that do not protect women become culprits in the spread of violence, “The non-application of the law [banning sexual violence] is a serious form of violence in that it [impunity] motivates rapists. Harmful traditions like female genital mutilation [FGM] and levirat, when a widow is required to marry her deceased husband’s brother, are also acts of violence.”
Malian sociologist Alou Badara Macalou said since certain traditions have become socially acceptable, women do not question violence toward them, or fight back. “Are these women aware or take part in movements to protect their rights? They remain largely untouched by efforts to change the status quo because they have yielded to the pressure of tradition.” Macalou said their silence has allowed violence to increase against them unfettered and unchallenged.
Bouare Bintou, the coordinator of the Program for the Enforcement of Male-Female Equity which financed the study, told IRIN the study focused on Bamako because of the heightened danger women face there. “Urbanisation and population growth have crowded people into the capital, changing neighbourhoods, lifestyles and relations between residents.”
The violence against women study coordinator Diop told IRIN it will take civil society, professionals, doctors, public workers, police, judges- and most importantly, the women themselves- to help all women and young girls fight back and assert their rights.
Oumou Ahmar Traore, a director in the Ministry for the Promotion of Women, Children and Families, told IRIN the government is drafting a new law that will expand the definition of violence against women beyond rape to include FGM and levirat.
“I am sure,” said Traore, “that rigorous application of this law will finally put an end to violence against women.” He said prison time will remain the same, and fines will increase, without specifying by how much.
When asked how the ministry can enforce this law when the existing one protecting women from sexual violence is often un-enforced, Traore replied enforcement is handled by the Ministry of Justice.
Mariam Diarra, 26, told IRIN she was raped by her uncle when she was 15 years old. “I still relive those difficult moments,” she said.
When asked how best to protect women, she held back her tears before they spilled forth in sobs, “May God protect all women from this fire.”