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Back to the drawing board for new family code

Woman walking in the street in a town in northern Mali. Women do not have equality with men under Malian law. Nicholas Reader/IRIN
Legislators in Mali will have to try harder to win support for the next draft of their new family code after the president sent it back to parliament on 27 August for re-drafting.

The current draft code recognizes only secular marriages, increases the legal marrying age to 18, gives girls inheritance rights, and makes women equal with their husbands at home, according to lawmakers who said they had not done enough to get backing for controversial parts of the family code.

“We demonstrated intellectual laziness in adopting the last code so quickly. This time, the assembly will start from zero,” parliamentarian Mountaga Tall told IRIN. He said legislators will hear the arguments of the nation’s highest Islamic body on 10 controversial points which have sparked demonstrations and threats of civil disobedience and violence.

President Amadou Toumani Touré sent the code back to the assembly, recognizing the government’s more than two-decade struggle to pursue “the dual objective of promoting a wave of modernization while preserving the foundations of our society”.

Since the adoption of the country’s first family code in 1962, the president said repeated failures to update and enforce it “proves that societal change is not ordered by decree”. Touré said the “door of debate is still open”.

The secretary of Mali’s highest ruling Islamic council, Mohamed Kimbiri, told IRIN that despite consulting the council about the code, lawmakers had not heeded Islamic leaders’ input on contentious points.

Following the president’s recent move, the Islamic council called off planned demonstrations against the code “until further notice”.

Opposition to the code

The head of a national non-profit group of Muslim women in Mali, Hadja Safiatou Dembélé, told IRIN that while she recognized the code was intended to benefit women, she had not supported it. “We say we agree with revolution and equality, but not an equality which shatters family harmony and puts us on a par with our spouses.” She said Muslim women want a code that respects societal and religious values.

Secondary school professor Bintou Camara told IRIN women cannot have equal standing with men. “There cannot be two bosses in the same family. It is the man who is always in control. I want to leave the term ‘obedience’ in place.” She said the legal marrying age of 18 is too old. “At 12 years old already, many girls are mature and know much about life at that age.” She told IRIN 15 is a good legal age for marriage.

Oumar Coulibaly, a baker working 400km south of the capital Bamako in Koutiala, told IRIN he did not understand why the code was being reconsidered. “We already have our daily problems with the rising cost of living. Why do they want to foist on us a code the origins of which I do not know?”

The president’s head of communications, Kader Maïga, told IRIN the president did not sign the code - which included more than 1,100 articles, about 10 of which are contested - out of respect for public opinion. “We are in a democracy. Why impose something that does not have unanimous support?”

The 13-year history of the most recent attempt to adjust the 1962 family law included regional meetings, and multiple readings and revisions, which resulted in parliament approving the family code, according to President Touré.

Round two

Maïga told IRIN lawmakers would “listen to all sectors of society” while reconsidering the articles which sparked the most heated dissent, and address this criticism in the revised code. “We will then ask all parties to go to their bases of support to explain the code,” he told IRIN.

Municipal adviser Walett Rachette in the country’s northern region of Timbuktu told IRIN the controversy surrounding the code’s passage mirrored past attempts to enforce the family code. “We should not wake old demons here.” She told IRIN lawmakers could only avoid a backlash by working with leaders to redraft the code.

Oumar Touré, a lawmaker who had voted for the code, said he felt dejected at having to contend again with the first bill to have been sent back for redrafting since multi-party democracy was founded in Mali in 1992. “Our constituents did not take the time to try to understand the code, which explains the toxic reaction we witnessed… The lawmakers who adopted the code are for the most part of the Muslim faith… I do not think they would engage in an act that went against their own religion,” he told IRIN.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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