Female Genital Mutilation in Mali
Mali currently has no legislation that criminalizes female genital mutilation (FGM). In 1997, the government committed to criminalizing FGM. Two years later, the Ministry of Health issued a directive banning it in public health facilities. However, despite a comprehensive reform plan, Mali did not implement any laws against FGM.

About Female Genital Mutilation

Female genital mutilation is the practice of removing some or all of the external female reproductive organ for no medical purpose. The World Health Organization (WHO) divides FGM into four types. Type I is the removal of the clitoral hood and/or the clitoral glans. Meanwhile, Type II is the removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, possibly accompanied by the removal of the labia majora. Type III involves narrowing the vaginal opening, leaving only a very small hole for menstruation and urination. Finally, Type IV is any other mutilation to the external female reproductive system, such as piercing or cauterizing. The most common forms of FGM in Mali are Types I and II, although some southern regions of the country practice Type III.

The Dangers of FGM

FGM has no health benefits and many side effects, some of which are deadly. It can cause chronic pain, mental health issues, scarring, future surgeries, risk of childbirth complications, urinary, vaginal and menstruation problems and other issues.

The History of FGM

Research traces the origin of FGM to Egypt in the fifth-century B.C.E. The original reasons for the practice are unclear, but evidence from Somalia and Egypt ties it to preventing female slaves from reproducing. Today, the practice is widespread across the northern half of Africa.

FGM is largely a cultural practice, and in Mali, societal pressures often result in mutilation before 5-years-old. Communities practice FGM for a variety of reasons, from decreasing girls’ and women’s libido to fulfilling a prerequisite for marriage. Although no religion endorses FGM, 70% of Malian women aged 15-49 believe that it is a religious requirement, and 75.8% believe it should continue.

Nearly 90% of Malian women and girls aged 15-49 have at least one type of genital mutilation. The regions with the highest rates of FGM are Kayes, Koulikoro, Sikasso and Ségou and Bamako, the capital. All have rates above 90%.

The Path to Legislation Banning FGM

As of June 2021, Mali has not criminalized female genital mutilation despite the harm that the procedure does. Millions of girls remain at risk not only in Mali but across the world. Thirty countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia still have not outlawed FGM.

However, advocacy groups and global governments are working to end FGM, and they have made great progress over the past 20 years. Since 1997, 26 countries in Africa and the Middle East have outlawed FGM. Furthermore, members of communities that practice FGM have begun to oppose the procedure in increasing numbers.

Communities abandoning FGM of their own volition is the fastest way to end the practice. Since 2019, the organizations Healthy Tomorrow and Sini Sanuman have worked to end female genital mutilation in Mali by changing minds. With the help of donations, they have renewed three anti-FGM billboards in Bamako and also created a TV trailer, “In the Name of Your Daughter,” which shows how Tanzanian police officers, courthouses, and safehouses protect young girls from FGM.

Despite the existence of FGM in Mali, the fact that many nearby countries in the area have banned it shows promise for the country. Hopefully, through the work of organizations like Healthy Tomorrow and Sini Sanuman, Mali will soon eliminate FGM as well.

Ana Golden
Photo: Flickr

fight against poverty in MaliMali ranks 175th out of 188 countries on the Human Development Index. Due to a complex web of social and geographical problems, more than half of the population in Mali lives below the poverty line. The combination of a harsh, unforgiving climate and severe political instability leaves Mali extremely vulnerable to the onset of poverty and food insecurity. However, in response to these conditions, organizations are entering the fight against poverty in Mali through strategies and solutions.

The State of Poverty in Mali

Geographic complications constitute a significant source of poverty in Mali. Agriculture is the number one employer in Mali, yet roughly 65% of Mali’s geographic area is designated as desert or semi-desert. This means that most of the agricultural activity in Mali is restricted to the fertile area near the Niger River. As a result, the country is vulnerable to changes in the climate as well as natural disasters like droughts. Mali’s tenuous agricultural dependence means that food insecurity is a major issue in the country. In fact, malnutrition is the second leading cause of death in children age 5 and below.

Mali’s situation has only grown direr since 2012 when civil war broke out after a coup d’etat by insurgents. In the years since, violence has been a constant. After the initial coup, other insurgent groups like ISIS seized the opportunity to move into a volatile area, further exacerbating Mali’s problems.

Organizations Working to Address Poverty in Mali

There are several organizations working toward poverty eradication in Mali today. From foreign aid agencies to nonprofit organizations and think tanks, diverse groups are working to address poverty in Mali. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) addresses poverty in Mali on multiple dimensions. This includes agriculture and food security; democracy and good governance; environmental changes; education; global health and climate management. USAID has had particular success employing poverty reduction strategies in the agricultural sphere. Through USAID assistance in 2018, more than 404,000 farmers in Mali were able to apply improved technologies to their agricultural practices.

In 2016, Feed the Future, the U.S. government’s global hunger and food security initiative, started the Innovation Lab for Food Security in Mali. The innovation lab conducts research on things such as the type of fertilizer farmers in Mali use and how potential innovations in agricultural technology can help fight food insecurity.

Innovations for Poverty Action

Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) is another organization taking action to spur innovations in poverty eradication in Mali. The IPA first opened an office in Mali in 2010. However, the IPA relocated its base from Mali to Burkina Faso after the coup but remains active in Mali to this day. Much like USAID, IPA conducts research on different factors that exacerbate poverty in Mali. IPA is studying innovations in agriculture, global health and other fields to evaluate their potential utility in the fight against poverty in Mali.

The fight against poverty in Mali includes fighting political instability as well. There are several successful innovations in this area. For example, the global cybersecurity company Kaspersky expanded into West Africa in 2020. Kaspersky’s expansion will drastically improve intelligence capabilities against violent insurgent groups. With intervention from foreign aid and collective action to eradicate poverty, Mali’s future is looking brighter.

Leo Ratté
Photo: Flickr

Mali's Shea Butter
As the sun rises over the wild-growing shea trees in Mali, West Africa, women from surrounding villages frequently work at the base of the towering trees gathering up the precious shea fruit. Encased within the fruit’s delicious pulp is the invaluable shea nut. Once their containers are full, the Malian women walk several kilometers back to their villages with up to 50 kilos of fruit in teetering baskets upon their heads. There, the fruit heads storage until it is ready for processing. Mali’s shea butter production has the potential to uplift the country’s economy significantly.

Great Demand and Inadequate Supply

Mali is the second-largest producer of shea nuts. It supplies more than 20% of the world’s shea nuts, which primarily go toward making shea butter. Shea butter’s primary use is in food and cosmetic products. The shea butter industry has grown over 600% in the last 20 years and is still on the rise. West Africa exports more than 350,000 tons of shea butter annually. In short, demand is not an issue but due to inadequate processing technology, Mali’s full wealth potential of shea butter production has not undergone realization. With over 42% of the country’s population living in poverty, the untapped possibilities of a modernized, efficient shea butter production practice desperately needed unearthing. The International Finance Corporation (IFC) decided to do just that.

The IFC Lends a Hand

The IFC is loaning approximately $3 million to Mali Shi, a shea nut processing plant located just outside Mali’s capital city of Bamako. The goal is to build a new, more modern plant with updated technology to boost efficiency and promote a better product. The IFC has also committed itself to offering training in business and finance as well as management skills to the shea nut suppliers in Mali. The shea supply chain in Mali mostly consists of women. Therefore, the bolstering of the shea butter industry in this region will allow these women to pay for their children’s schooling, invest in a family business and access transportation.

Prioritizing the Valuable Resource

The shea butter industry is not slowing down any time soon and women in low-income countries are on the frontlines. As the shea fad continues, more and more companies that use shea butter in their products are working to keep their focus on the hard-working women supplying the shea nuts. As companies bring in profits, many are fighting to ensure the suppliers of the valuable shea nuts are reaping the benefits of the backbreaking work.

Ghanaian American Rahama Wright is one of them. Rahama’s company, Shea Yeleen, has a business model that benefits the suppliers in the West African countries producing the shea butter. Shea Yeleen offers shea producers five times the typical income. Instead of an average of $2 per day for the labor-intensive work, many suppliers are now receiving $10 per day from Rahama’s company. Additionally, many of the women who belong to the cooperatives Shea Yeleen supports receive health insurance, training and access to savings groups. Shea Yeleen ensures its suppliers receive compensation by processing payments through the cooperatives and requiring signed payment receipts from cooperative members.

The Future Looks Bright

In a nutshell, as demand for Mali’s shea butter continues to rise, investment in shea entrepreneurs is vital. The efforts to modernize shea processing in Mali offer a bridge between a life of poverty and one of financial stability. For more than 120,000 individual shea nut suppliers to Mali Shi (95% of which are women) the ability to process shea butter with a higher level of efficiency means a brighter future. This empowerment not only benefits the farmers directly affected but also provides an opportunity for serious economic growth for the country.

– Rachel Proctor
Photo: Flickr

Mali and the TNA Project
Mali is a West African country with a population of 20 million people. The country’s high poverty levels have long-term impacts on the physical health of citizens. With a poverty rate of 42.7% in 2019, many citizens suffer from malnutrition. In response, the Technology Needs Assessment (TNA) project’s overall focus on environmental health helps mitigate the long-term effects of poverty within the country. Mali and the TNA project have helped the country utilize agricultural technology to develop programs and projects centered on these impacts of poverty.

What is TNA?

The U.N. Environment Programme and the UNEP DTU partnership (U.N. Environment and the Technical University of Denmark) created the Technology Needs Assistance project in 2001. The Global Environment Facility helps finance this multi-phased project.

TNA has helped people in more than 80 countries, with a primary focus on environmental health. It uses a country-led approach in order to develop accountability. TNA generally helps countries make improvements to many of the programs and projects already in place.

The work of TNA aligns with the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs emerged to end poverty and other deprivations through global partnership. TNA recognizes the role technology can have in achieving these goals, especially in the area of environmental health.

Mali and TNA

Mali faces a serious risk of droughts. Droughts can have disastrous economic and environmental effects by damaging agriculture, water supplies and more. In response to this risk, Mali and the TNA project helped develop field contouring. Field contouring prevents soil erosion and water run-off. In one rural part of the country, Koutiala, the water run-off has reduced by at least 20% and the crop yields have increased by 30%. Additionally, Mali and TNA developed micro-hydroelectric stations that benefit the rural and urban areas of the country by providing clean energy.

Although Mali completed its TNA in 2012, the Institute of Rural Economy measures the progress and impacts of the technology that this project introduced. This research agency mainly focuses on agricultural, livestock and food technology. TNA focused on the agriculture, water resources and energy sector of the country to improve overall environmental health. Despite the country’s completion of TNA almost a decade ago, there are still clear benefits from the project. For example, the Institute of Rural Economy continues to hold training sessions and collect data to ensure the country is advancing in technology. Overall, TNA in Mali aligns with five SDGs: clean water and sanitation, affordable and clean energy, responsible consumption and production, climate action and life on land.

CORAF in Mali

Since the TNA project in Mali officially ended, the country has taken steps to continue improving its practices for environmental health. The Conference of the Agricultural Research Leaders in West and Central Africa (CORAF) is an international nonprofit organization that focuses on agricultural production. Currently, Mali has implemented 23 CORAF projects. This organization works with different agricultural programs in Mali to improve and strengthen its agricultural technology. Its main goal is to reduce poverty and malnutrition in the country.

Although Mali has phased out of the TNA project, the nation is still working to improve its agricultural technology. Utilizing technology is one step toward mitigating the impacts of poverty within Mali.

– Mia Banuelos
Photo: Flickr

Universal Healthcare is Saving Children in MaliBeing a child in the impoverished, conflict-riddled country of Mali is not easy. Lack of healthcare is one of the major factors contributing to the issue of child poverty. One in 10 children does not live to see their fifth birthday. The primary causes of death are pneumonia, diarrhea and malaria. All these diseases are completely preventable. Children who survive must often work to help provide for their families instead of getting an education. The Malian government is aiming for universal healthcare in Mali, starting with a focus on pregnant women and children under 5.

Conflict in Mali

Mali is a landlocked country located in West Africa and one of the most poverty-stricken nations in the world. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) reports that 49% of Malians live below the extreme poverty line. With more than half of the country’s entire population under the age of 18, child poverty is an ongoing crisis.

Mali gained its independence from France in 1960 and has since struggled for stability. Decades of conflict have wreaked havoc on the people living within Mali’s borders.The most recent conflict began in 2012 when a group of rebels, backed by several Islamic militant groups, overthrew the government in a military coup. These alliances did not last long, and as a result, sparked violence that spread across the country. The struggle for land and power continues to this day. In 2018, nearly one-third of Mali’s population lived in areas directly affected by the conflict. As war wages on, child poverty in Mali continues to increase.

A Child’s Life in Mali

Mali’s youth have taken the brunt of the devastation caused by the continuing violence. Many lack necessities like access to clean water, food, education and healthcare. Children under the age of 5 are most vulnerable, and without accessible healthcare, many preventable diseases turn deadly.

Before the 2012 conflict, great strides were being made in the development of programs and policies to improve the conditions of child poverty in Mali. Infant mortality was on the decline, the number of children enrolled in school increased by 10% and there was a dramatic rise in birth registries. Registry of birth is extremely vital because when a child is unregistered, they do not carry the same rights and protections as those who are. Registration at birth assists in securing a child’s access to human rights protections under laws against child marriage, labor and recruitment into armed forces before the legal age. Without documentation to prove identity, education, healthcare and the right to vote become inaccessible.

UNICEF’s Efforts

The country’s instability has halted much of the progression. However, humanitarian organizations like UNICEF, continue to work toward the goal of ensuring every child’s rights are upheld. UNICEF is currently working on four key elements of child welfare in Mali:

  1. Vaccinations: UNICEF targets communities with the highest number of unvaccinated children and uses proven strategies to supply vaccinations for the most common diseases.
  2. Malnutrition Prevention: Educating families within the first 1,000 days of life on proper nutrition, vaccination benefits and hygiene has been successful in decreasing infant mortality rates.
  3. Education: Distributing learning materials and helping train teachers to ensure children have the best quality education possible is a high priority.
  4. Child marriage: UNICEF is assisting the Malian government in developing policies to end the practice of child marriage. This entails encouraging leadership on local levels to adopt progressive policies that promote social change for the betterment of the female children in their communities.

The Good News

The Malian government says it wants to see improvement in the lives of its people. For this reason, it is actively working to ensure free healthcare is available to all citizens. The ultimate hope is for universal healthcare in Mali.

Data obtained through a lifesaving pilot program that began in 2008 provides promising news. This trial program provides door-to-door healthcare in the town of Yirimadio, which is located just outside Mali’s capital city of Bamako. When the trial began, the child mortality rate was 154 deaths per 1,000 births. Upon the trial’s completion, the child mortality rate had decreased by a staggering 95%.

This free door-to-door health care program was so successful that Mali’s government has committed to having this healthcare program available nationwide by 2022. At this time, the plan is offered to pregnant women and children under the age of 5. Mali’s health minister, Samba Ousmane Sow, said, “We are trying to make Mali be great again, to improve our healthcare system and save lives and we are hoping this will help us reach universal healthcare with a very powerful, improved system.”

The Road Ahead

The primary concern is ensuring healthcare professionals have the training and provisions to provide the service. The Malian government is seeking ways to become self-sustaining in its quest for universal healthcare as it is saving children in Mali. Currently, it is reliant on external donors to supplement government funding. Nonetheless, amid conflict, there lies hope for the future.

Rachel Proctor
Photo: Flickr

Universal Healthcare in Mali
In early 2019, the Malinese government made an announcement that shocked the global health world: it would make healthcare free at the point-of-service to pregnant women and children under 5 years of age. The country had achieved universal healthcare in Mali.

The Situation

In a country where poverty and healthcare outcomes were in dire straits, the move to provide universal care for the most vulnerable demographic in Mali was welcome and necessary. Previous to the 2019 decree, Mali had disastrous health outcomes.

About 106 children out of 1,000 live births would not survive delivery. Adding to the issue was the fact that 587 per 100,000 mothers would not survive delivery either, one of the highest rates of maternal mortality in the world. Only malaria and digestive diseases claim more lives in Mali.

In order to diagnose the problems with Malinese healthcare, a historical context is necessary. With that understanding, the new approach reveals itself to be necessary, positive and inclusive.

Post-Colonialism

After Mali’s liberation from France in the 1960s, the nascent country fell back on the healthcare system that was already in place. That system emerged 50 years prior and had not evolved with the needs of the populace. It would not change until the 1980s.

The Bamako Initiative

Launched in 1987, the initiative came under recommendation from both UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO). Named after the capital city of Mali, the initiative proved problematic, pushing the Malinese into poor health outcomes.

The initiative called for patients to pay for things like health services and drugs to offset costs and insufficient funds. The system requirements led the impoverished to avoid seeking care.

Post-Implementation

The free to pregnant mothers and under 5-year-old children policy has already yielded benefits. The new model re-centers care away from costly hospital services to community-based care.

Nurses can now travel door-to-door to service mothers and children under 5-years-old without fees. The results have been stunningly effective, with infant mortality dropping by 95% in the Bamako district.

Dr. Ari Johnson, a professor of global health sciences at the University of California, San Francisco heralded the approach: “The ministry of health [in Mali] has taken a very brave and bold political move to make real, evidence-based healthcare change.”

The approach serves as a model example; One that Mali hopes will become the standard across Africa. Johnson continues with optimism, stating that he hopes the new approach will: “make Mali a leader in health sector reform on the African continent.” Universal healthcare in Mali was no longer a dream.

The COVID-19 Pandemic

Although Mali has experienced strain due to the pandemic, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Gutierrez has noticed Mali’s new model of healthcare. He called on nations to implement Universal Health Care for all nations in order to beat COVID-19. He stated that “The pandemic has revealed utterly inadequate health systems, yawning gaps in social protection, and major structural inequalities within and between countries.”

Gutierrez continued on to make the connection between robust systems and access, stating that “ . . . we cannot wait 10 years. We need Universal Health Coverage, including mental health coverage, now, to strengthen efforts against the pandemic and prepare for future crises.”

Foreign Aid

A number of Western nations have come to Mali’s aid. The impoverished nation, just starting on its new policy, has found itself hobbled by the current crisis. Experts see support for the nation, and its new health policy, as crucial.

The Netherlands

The Project to Accelerate Progress Towards Universal Health Coverage (PACSU) is a joint effort between the Dutch Embassy and the Global Financing Facility, the World Bank and the Ministry of Health in Mali. Learning from the impact of previous health crises in the region, the Netherlands’ support will focus on pregnant mothers and newborns.

When the Ebola crisis hit the region in 2014, a startling trend of infant and maternal mortality gripped Mali. Resources were scant and pregnant women were unable to secure the necessary health services to ensure a successful birth. PACSU will provide facilities, professionals, equipment and any other resources necessary to the ailing system during COVID-19.

The US

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) will join the fight as well supplying $45 million to Palladium, an international development firm. The organization will provide support to reinforce Mali’s health systems and financing, providing access to high-quality care. Two programs, the Human Resources for Health 2030 (HRH2030) and the Human Resources for Health Strengthening Activity (HRHSA), have not been successful and will undergo expansion.

These programs, in concert with Mali’s Ministry of Health, will focus on the decentralization of health services. Training, motivation and safety for new medical professionals, particularly in the prevention of illness among both patients and healthcare workers is crucial to the program’s success.

Universal healthcare in Mali is critical from many standpoints. Not only does it provide relief for the historically impoverished Sahelian country itself, but it serves as a model for the rest of Africa. The refocus on community health improves access and financing. Once again, Africa leads the way in methodology, access and care during the struggle against COVID-19.

– Christopher Millard
Photo: Flickr

impact of conflict on poverty
Conflict can be a catalyst for an array of poverty-related events. It can impact poverty by depleting resources, interrupting supply chains, destroying infrastructure, taking lives and much more. Unfortunately, this trend has held in the country of Mali, which currently shows the significant impact of conflict on poverty.

Conflict Background and Economic Impact

The Mali War is an ongoing conflict that began in January of 2012. Since then, violence between the North and South of Mali has ebbed and flowed in severity but never subsided. Malian people, including the Tuareg, in the North of Mali, have expressed resentment and concern, as they feel that governmental groups and political factions have been neglecting their concerns and treating them unfairly. Ethnic divides, fundamentalist fighters and an unstable political system are a few issues that have caused this conflict.

There have been thousands of deaths and thousands of more people fleeing the conflict. As mentioned previously, many connect the weak economic sector in Mali to the outbreak of unrest and violence. Almost cyclically, this violence is now negatively impacting the economic sector. Before the conflict broke out, tourism accounted for more than 40% of Mali’s GDP. Researchers estimate that 8,000 people lost their job due to the drastic decrease in tourism after the conflict began. The economic connection highlights the ranging impact of conflict on poverty.

Many of those living in the North of Mali, mostly Tuareg and Arab groups, depend on the agricultural sector for their income. The government has invested very little in this sector and focuses primarily on tourism and the export of gold and cotton from the South. This has led many agricultural producers in the South to grow jaded towards the government due to their increased likelihood of experiencing extreme poverty.

The Impact on Public Health

Roughly 1 in 3 children in Mali are facing chronic malnutrition. An annual average of nearly four million people in Mali do not have access to an adequate amount of food. More than half of Mali’s children and young adults are illiterate and have been pushed out of school due to displacement. Many children in Mali are at great risk of being recruited into militant groups, further threatening their safety, educational resources, and ability to climb from poverty.

At its base level, the conflict in Mali threatens public health by the sheer loss of life it has caused. In 2018, hundreds of civilians were killed by armed groups. The byproducts of this violence caused even more people to experience extreme poverty, malnutrition and death. Additionally, more than 200,000 people have fled Mali altogether to avoid the violence. This stunts Mali’s economic growth, which reaffirms the dangerous impact of conflict on poverty.

Current Aid and Support Efforts

A military coup ousted the former President of Mali, Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, on August 19th, 2020. President Bah Ndaw became the interim leader of Mali and will hold the position until an election can be held. Some are hopeful that if a legitimate election can be held, much of the conflict in Mali will subside. In the meantime, many local and international nonprofit organizations have mobilized to aid in poverty-reduction efforts throughout Mali.

  1. For example, World Vision began providing aid in Mali in 1975, even before the conflict. In 2012 during the height of the conflict, World Vision provided aid in the form of food, clean water, and shelter to more than 150,000 people throughout Mali. Additionally, more than 60,000 children in Mali are currently benefiting from World Vision’s child sponsorship program. The program allows donors to provide monetary assistance to and communicate with an impoverished child. Many of these sponsored children in Mali reside within conflict-ridden areas.
  2. Peace Direct, another nonprofit organization, focuses on peacebuilding efforts in Mali. They support communities in their implementation of peacebuilding; in 2019 alone, they supported more than 20 projects throughout Mali. Peace Direct realizes the importance of community growth, both physically and emotionally, to peacebuilding. A lack of communal trust can be detrimental to poverty reduction, as teamwork makes progress more effective and efficient. Additionally, the building of trust and understanding among conflict groups is essential to support continued growth and stability throughout Mali. This trust will prevent future conflicts and allow Mali to focus on joint economic growth and poverty-reduction tactics throughout their country.

    3. “The Peacebuilding Stabilization and Reconciliation Project,” run through USAID, began in April of 2018 and is scheduled to be completed in March of 2023. This project focuses on rebuilding many of the conflict-ridden areas throughout Mali, providing rehabilitation resources to those impacted by the violence, increasing civic engagement and helping Mali’s government introduce barriers to prevent violent outbreaks in the future. USAID believes that providing community members with an active role in their governance will decrease dissent, enhance democratic values, reduce the likelihood of future conflict and decrease the joint poverty level throughout Mali. Success will also ideally increase GDP and overall well being while mitigating the impact of conflict on poverty in Mali.

The Future of the Region

The domino effect that violence can have on the prosperity of a nation is not a surprise. Violence decreases an individual’s ability to focus on economic growth or public health. It overtakes governmental initiatives and attention from the media, forcing poverty-related issues to take a backseat. The importance of the international community supporting peacebuilding efforts in Mali remains essential. The path toward peace will trickle-down benefits for many subsets of Mali’s society and will decrease the occurrence of extreme poverty throughout the nation.

Danielle Forrey
Photo: UN Multimedia

poverty in Mali
A land-locked, predominantly rural society with limited women’s rights, a poor healthcare system and constant conflict due to recent terrorism and political instability, Mali and its population are extremely vulnerable to poverty. In fact, 49% of Malians live below the poverty line.

Poverty in Numbers

The astronomically high rate of poverty in Mali affects various parts of its society, namely food security, education and women’s rights. Over 70% of families in Mali are four individuals or larger given that the average Malian woman gives birth to six children. Big families, combined with the rising number of droughts, food shocks and unsustainable agriculture practices, have adversely impacted food security and the cost of living in Mali. This leads to many children dropping out of school to support their family by working, a problem that will likely be exacerbated by the increased poverty due to COVID-19. As a result, the total adult literacy rate is just 33% while only reaching 22% for women, thus hurting the future prospects and opportunities for Mali’s population.

Furthermore, Malian women are treated as property to be bought and sold. This oppressive culture along with widespread poverty in Mali has greatly contributed to about 49% of Malian girls being forced to marry before they turn 18, as husbands will pay more money for younger brides.

The government of Mali has consistently viewed international cooperation and collaboration as the most effective way for it to reduce domestic poverty. Traditionally, however, Mali’s largest obstacle to overcome has been the constant threat of terrorism in its north, which has displaced hundreds of thousands of people in addition to reducing the government and NGOs’ ability to provide basic services to those who fled.

Programs to Help Mali

Governments across the world have provided aid for Mali’s people through a variety of programs. Notably, the United State’s Feed the Future initiative not only gives nutritional help to millions of Malian children per year but it advances long-term food solutions to food security in Mali by providing sustainable farming technologies for thousands of Malian farmers.

Canada has pursued a similar mission by funding hydro-agricultural infrastructure to help 7,500 women gain access to high-quality, irrigated land as well as helping about 470,000 women obtain crop insurance or agricultural credit from 2014 to 2017. This further bolstered food security for at-risk families, thereby building resilience to possible environmental events.

Finally, the World Bank has allocated $1.5 billion to 30 programs directly improving Mali’s infrastructure, financial sector and agricultural sector. The results of such ventures have been overwhelmingly positive for eliminating poverty in Mali. Almost 80,000 Malians have received cash transfers four times a year, over 100,000 women and children received nutritional supplements and new water sanitation facilities were established in communities threatened by water scarcity.

The Road Ahead

The efforts of Mali and its partners cannot stop now. COVID-19 will inevitably create even more poverty throughout Mali with numerous economic and health factors on top of a possible increase in terrorist activities. For many reasons, stepping up efforts to help Mali’s government is the only option. Failing to prevent Mali’s condition from further deteriorating could have dire humanitarian repercussions. On the other hand, acting now and collectively is essential to ensuring regional peace and prosperity for the future. Helping Mali is no longer a choice for the world; rather, it is fundamental to eliminating poverty by the United Nations’ 2030 target date.

– Alex Berman
Photo: Flickr

Challenges of Life in Mali
Mali is a hot, dry, landlocked country located in Western Africa. With the Sahara Desert dominating 65% of Mali’s land, climate conditions force many into poverty. As the country is among the 25 poorest countries in the world, challenges for life in Mali arise as living conditions are inadequate for natives and aid workers.

Poverty in Mali

People living in Mali rely heavily on foreign aid. The most common careers pursued are within the agriculture industry; cotton and gold exports make up 80% of Malians export earnings. Despite living in one of the driest places in the world, Malians greatly depend on farming to provide for their families. The Borgen Project spoke with Susan Roach, who previously lived with her family in Mali’s capital, Bamako. Susan and her husband were aid workers for the International Society for Humanitarian Action. Roach’s husband taught Malians better farming techniques. Roach said, “a pitiful harvest means starvation, and starvation equals poverty.”

However, poor farming conditions are not the only factor that affects life in Mali. A staggering 74.4% of the population does not have access to electricity. Although 80% of Malians have access to water, this number drops significantly in rural areas. As a result, 49% of the population falls under the poverty line due to the lack of access to basic necessities.

The Array of Cultures

There are many different ethnic groups in Mali. Tribes with their own unique language, worldview and cultural traditions live throughout the country. However, 80% of Malians are Muslim and many tribes believe in animism. There are also immense differences in leadership among the Malian government and tribes. While the Malian government is a republic consisting of elected representatives, a council of elders leads the indigenous people. According to Roach, the honor system is strong in the villages as no one wants to dishonor their family’s name.

“I felt safer in the villages than I ever felt, even in a city in the United States.” Overall, one cannot group Malian culture into one category. “A lot of people think in Africa that they’re all the same. And that could not be any further from the truth,” Roach reflected on life in Mali.

Education for Malian Children

Public education is free for Malians. However, many children are unable to receive an education due to the cost of school fees, uniforms and school supplies. In 2015, on average, boys attended school for eight years while girls attended for seven. Girls who pursue secondary education often cannot obtain placement and are unable to receive that education. Roach states that families would rather send their sons to school because they are more likely to quickly find a job to support them. On the contrary, the social role of girls is to marry and tend to the home. As a result, 25% of Malian women are illiterate. Although education receives funding from the government, the allocation of resources is not equal. Schools in rural areas typically have one teacher educating many students with limited supplies. Yet, in urban areas, school facilities are cleaner and properly staffed.

A Shorthanded Healthcare System

To add to the challenges of life in Mali, doctors are scarce and overworked. Roach recalls how her husband would take patients to the hospital and lay them on a mat outside of the doctor’s door. However, the doctor would not be able to tend to the patients for a few days due to overcrowding and overwork. The life expectancy in Mali is 61 years. Fortunately, Mali announced an initiative to provide basic healthcare for pregnant women and children under 5 years old. This initiative costs approximately $120 million and will start in 2022. Additionally, Mali hopes to increase the number of healthcare professionals and decrease the child mortality rate.

Life in Mali is certainly challenging. Nevertheless, with new government initiatives in motion and various organizations providing aid, Mali is progressing towards a brighter future.

Bailey Sparks
Photo: Flickr

Sanitation in Mali
Access to proper sanitation and clean water is a relatively simple yet incredibly important part of protecting public health. For developing nations like Mali, it can be hard to come by. In rural areas, only 30% of people have access to clean water. This puts them at risk for diarrhea, which is responsible for one out of every nine child deaths in the world. Further, most schools do not have proper toilets for their students, and about half lack a clean water source altogether. People must undergo steps to provide safe water and improve sanitation in Mali. Luckily, some organizations, like Save the Children, are attempting to help.

Save the Children

The Save the Children Fund has been supporting kids around the world since 1919. It works to improve communities in many sectors, including healthcare, education, community development and more. Save the Children first arrived in Mali in 1987 and has been on the ground defending the country’s most vulnerable ever since.

Waterborne diseases pose a great threat to children in developing countries. One of the best ways to tackle this crisis is through proper water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) products and services. Accordingly, Save the Children has made this a center of attention in its work through the Clean Household Approach (CHA) program. The CHA program emphasizes the importance of WASH products and services and is working to reduce the risk of childhood diarrhea and sanitation in Mali.

Previous programs often looked at the issue from a communal perspective. Public resources became the focus rather than looking at what people could accomplish in each individual household. “People care for and maintain personal belongings better than communal property,” Save the Children reported. With this in mind, the CHA program directs efforts at the household level and not at the community level. Instead of providing sanitation equipment at a communal well where people draw water from, the program is making change directly in the homes where people consume the water.

The Clean Household Approach Program (CHA)

The CHA program differs from other programs with similar goals because it does not simply offer financial aid, it also uses a market-based approach. Save the Children recognizes that household sanitation commodities are not something that people tend to prioritize. Families put food and shelter above the often expensive equipment necessary to secure clean water. To circumvent this, Save the Children is making household sanitation commodities both accessible and desirable.

The CHA program provides vouchers that subsidize the cost of WASH products and services. The program typically provides vouchers after a household member attends a meeting on proper handwashing or a visit to a physician. It also uses a variety of incentives to encourage families to invest in WASH products and services. For example, a home can meet “Clean Household” status by satisfying certain criteria pertaining to proper sanitation practices. They then receive the award of a flag to note their success.

The CHA program also uses marketing strategies and social norms to try to emphasize the importance of WASH products and services. Additionally, Save the Children provides training and collaborates with local business owners to ensure that a supply of WASH products and services is always available.

WASH products and services work. The risk of diarrheal infections falls 47% with proper handwashing, 17% with better water quality and 36% with better sanitation. Through projects like the CHA program, Save the Children has been able to keep over 1 million children healthy and nourished in Mali. It continues to change lives around the world and has shown no signs of slowing down in its support for sanitation in Mali.

– Evan Driscoll
Photo: Flickr