Women's Associations in Mali: Empowerment, Leadership, and Political Mobilization
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In Mali, there is a shift currently taking place toward inclusive, democratic governance and equitable participatory development, which makes the study of gender in public participation particularly relevant and timely. Over the course of eight weeks in Mali during the Summer of 2007, I conducted participant observation research and extensive interviews in Bamako and the region of Sikasso. My main goals were to 1) uncover the functions of Women's Associations in female leadership development and public participation, 2) examine how women maneuver within a national policy of decentralization and village, neighborhood, religious and gendered authoritative norms, and 3) develop a discussion of the implications of these dynamics. I targeted women's associations, regional and national networks, non-governmental and governmental organizations that specifically work in the gender and governance sector. In the mostly agricultural and rural region of Sikasso, I considered the role of women in development initiatives and local decision-making. This discussion necessitates the consideration of gender in personal/family economies and public/private negotiations. From my research I was able to understand national and local networks of women's associations and to categorize them: revenue generating or training; trade or professional; tontine, credit or capital building; social or cultural; neighborhood, village or geographic. I would argue that in all these forms they foster leadership and solidarity--important precursors to larger political movement and development advancements. My research illuminates societal and cultural structures insightful for gender understanding, community organizing, community and economic development, and local governance both for practical use in Mali and for theoretical application in other geographic locations in the developing world.