Malian Muslims protest against family law revision, 2009


To prevent Mali from enacting legislation that would increase and broaden women’s rights, especially in marriage

Time period

August 22, 2009 to August 27, 2009



Location City/State/Province

Jump to case narrative

Methods in 2nd segment

  • Boycotting officials and NGO members from all participation in religious ceremonies and membership

Methods in 3rd segment

  • Boycotting officials and NGO members from all participation in religious ceremonies and membership

Methods in 4th segment

  • Boycotting officials and NGO members from all participation in religious ceremonies and membership

Methods in 5th segment

  • Boycotting officials and NGO members from all participation in religious ceremonies and membership

Methods in 6th segment

  • Boycotting officials and NGO members from all participation in religious ceremonies and membership

Segment Length

1 day


Imam Mahmoud Dicko and the High Islamic Council


Hadja Safiato Dembele and the National Union of Muslim Women's Associations

External allies

Not Known

Involvement of social elites

Many influential Islamic leaders supported the campaign and advocated resistance during religious ceremonies


President Amadou Toumani Toure government of Mali; Association of Malian Women Lawyers; Association of Women in Law and Development; Mamadou Konaté, Oumou Toura, Kane Nana Sanou, and other Malian women’s rights advocates

Nonviolent responses of opponent

Women’s rights advocates engaged in lobbying and education campaigns in an attempt to raise support for their issue

Campaigner violence

Not Known

Repressive Violence

Not Known


Human Rights
National-Ethnic Identity



Group characterization

Muslim citizens of Mali

Additional notes on joining/exiting order

All known social groups seemed to have been part of the campaign from the beginning

Segment Length

1 day

Success in achieving specific demands/goals

5 out of 6 points


1 out of 1 points


3 out of 3 points

Total points

9 out of 10 points

Notes on outcomes

The law was not passed, but hasn’t been officially dropped.

Religious organizations and campaigner groups survived through the campaign and continue to defend the current family law.

50,000 people attended the largest rally

Database Narrative

Mali, a nation whose citizens are 90% Muslim, maintains laws that adhere to the regulations laid out in the Qur’an. Current law requires women to obey their husband’s commands, sets the legal age for a girl to marry at 12, gives male children priority access to inheritance, and denies women property rights. Mali, like many other countries who limit women’s freedom, has come under criticism from the United Nations (UN) and other international organizations for their curtailment of human rights.

In August of 2009, the parliament of Mali responded to the international criticism by passing a law that would have broadened and increased women’s rights. Proposed changes to the family law code included requiring women and men to pledge equal loyalty and protection in marriage, rather than giving the man ownership over the woman, raising the legal age to marry to 18, giving women inheritance rights, and further enforcing Malian marriage as a secular institution. Currently, approximately 60 percent of Malian girls are married before their 18th birthday. As the legislation reached President Amadou Toumani Toure for enactment into law, Muslim religious leaders began to communicate the effects of the proposed changes to the law to their congregations and encouraged them to protest.

The international community, most notably the UN, congratulated Mali on the proposed law change, deeming it a victory for human rights and dignity for women. As it became clear that the president was supportive of the legislation, likely because of the international accolades associated with it, Imam Mahmoud Dicko, the head of the High Islamic Council began to agitate for public opposition to the law. Hopeful that the president would fear for his reelection prospects, Imam Dicko began to organize a large march to demonstrate the large-scale populist opposition to the proposed law change.

On August 22, 2009, 50,000 men and women gathered in Bamako, the capitol, to march against the proposed law. Carrying banners with slogans like “No to this law that divides the people of Mali,”  “Let women remain women, and men remain men,” and “Western civilization is a sin,” the crowd marched to the largest stadium in Bamako, where they rallied with religious leaders who led them in praise for God. Hadja Safiato Dembele and the National Union of Muslim Women's Associations publicly endorsed the rally on behalf of all Muslim women, making statements to the press intimating that any women in favor of increased rights was betraying her husband and destroying the Muslim family. Though there isn’t detailed documentation, similar demonstrations occurred across the country.

At the conclusion of the day of mass demonstrations, leading imams and Muslim scholars issued a statement warning that the proposed law “violates several articles of faith, teachings of the Koran and traditional values of the Malian people”. They also proclaimed a religious boycott against all government officials and non-governmental organizations, denying them access to marriages, baptisms, or prayer services, calling them “traitors to Allah”. Given that the vast majority of Malian governmental officials are Muslims and religiously required to pray 5 times a day, denying them access to their places of worship was a very effective tactic.

In addition to the boycott, Malian imams announced that in the event that Toure signed the law, the mosques would begin issuing their own marriage licenses, bypassing the civil government entirely.

On August 27, 2009, President Amadou Toumani Toure announced that despite his desire to sign the bill into law, he would send it back to the legislature for revision due to overwhelming social consensus and his desire to promote national unity. Since then, the bill hasn’t been reconsidered, nor is there any sign of it being resubmitted for signature by the President.


The Malian struggle draws influence from other heavily religious countries such as Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and others, that seek to maintain similar limitations on women’s rights and activities. In many countries, limitations exist, though the struggle for them isn’t currently active (1).


Debrabandere, Carine. “Women's rights languish in Mali.” 8 March 2010. Deutsche Welle . 12 December 2010 <,,5323121,00.html>.

“Equal rights for Mali women under attack.” 23 August 2009. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 12 December 2010 <>.

Howden, Daniel. “Mali president forced to retreat on women's rights law” 28 August 2009. The Independent. 12 December 2010. <>.

“Mali demonstrators protest laws strengthening women's rights.“ 22 August 2009. Agence France Presse. 12 December 2010. <>.

“Mali Imam Living in Fear After Backing Women's Rights.” 2010. Agencia AngolaPress. 12 December 2010. <>.

“Mali leader rethinks women's law.” 28 August 2009. IOL News. 12 December 2010 <>.

“Mali protest against women's law.” 23 August 2009. BBC News. 12 December 2010. <>.

“Malian Muslims reject new family code.” 23 August 2009. Afrique en ligne. 12 December 2010. <>.

Vogl, Martin. “Mali women's rights bill blocked.” 27 August 2009. BBC News. 12 December 2010. <>.

Vogl, Martin. “To love, honour and obey in Mali.” 27 August 2009. BBC News. 12 December 2010. <>.

Additional Notes

The case doesn’t fit easily into any of the case clusters. The nature of the struggle is religious, and the above listing is an approximation at best.

Edited by M.R. (22/05/2011)

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy

Hanna King 12/12/2010