Malian Muslims protest against family law revision, 2009

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Time Period:  
August 22,
August 27,
Location and Goals
Location City/State/Province: 
To prevent Mali from enacting legislation that would increase and broaden women’s rights, especially in marriage

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.

Research Notes

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