Mali: Women Speaking French is the Key

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Thu Nov 20 14:38:48 UTC 2008

Input Paper 2 Mali- Robin
November 19, 2008 by robins3977

Women Speaking French is the Key

In researching the country of Mali, I have developed a hypothesis that
the intersections of economic situations and the traditions of culture
in Mali are the key to why the literacy rate and simple communication
of women in French is so low, and can also be the key to reversing the
problem. I would like to further explore these dynamics through the
availability of prior research using statistics and narratives of
Malian women. I believe that this aspect of non-literate,
non-communicative women in the French language is one of many forms of
discrimination of women. The main language of governing in Mali is
French, and the political structure is based in the French language
(Mali-Statistics). If the women, for one reason or another, are unable
to read, understand or communicate in the language of government
policies, how are they expected to be able to have an impact on their
political or economic situation?

Mali is an extremely poor country whose livelihood depends on the
export of cotton (Ford 2). As seen from an economical standpoint, this
is not the best position for the country to be in; cotton is a cash
crop, and cash crop's profits rest solely on supply and demand. When
Mali is producing a large amount of cotton, the demand goes down-
therefore, the profit goes down; and when a small amount is produced
because of droughts for example, more money is made per share because
demand has increased, but the country is producing significantly less
cotton. It seems to be a downward spiral. Mali is agriculturally based
with little industry contributing to their Gross Domestic Product; so
Malian families generally spend much of their time working with the
crops. According to a Malian woman interviewed by Frank Dall, the
children, mainly girls, are needed to sell produce from roadside
stands or look after the other children in the home while the parents
work in the fields (Dall 2).

As stated before in my first input paper, the education in Mali is
essentially not free. The pupil's family must provide a desk and
chair, chalk and other supplies plus make monthly contributions to the
school. When the family is working so hard just to maintain their food
source, it is financially difficult to send a child to school. Most
families cannot afford to pay for education and the ones that can, may
only be able to afford to send one child to school (Dall 3).

The statistics given in my first input paper clearly show that boys
are being educated at nearly double the percentage of girls that are
receiving an education. The literacy rate reflects the same. So we
know that this choice that favors the schooling of males over females
is being made, but why? According to some narratives of Malian women
there are a few reasons. The male is expected to carry on the legacy
of the family, the male is supposed to become the provider of the
family, the girl could be provoked into promiscuity by a "westernized"
school setting, or that men are generally intimidated by educated
women, and the parents are afraid that their daughter will not be able
to find a husband if she has an education (Dall 3.)

When it comes down to this choice, culture plays a major role in the
decision-making process of the family. Muslim religion by nature is
very patriarchal; and with over 90% of Malians practicing Muslim, then
the religion plays a major part in their culture (Schultz 14). The
book of Islam is Qur'an and it does not in anyway suggest the
discrimination of women should occur in society, but it does say that
the man is the "leader" of the family (Badawi). I do not believe that
it is the direct Islamic religion that provokes this treatment of
women in their society; however, I do believe that placing the man in
this position of power allows for centuries of interpretations through
the perspectives of those males who hold the hierarchical power.

Some would argue that all of this inequality that I have just listed
above will change soon with the implementation of democracy, adult
literacy programs, and propositions of education reform. Cynthia Enloe
reminds us that just because a law is passed, it does not equal
immediate change; therefore, I would conclude that just because a
democracy has been installed into Mali, it does not equal change. For
example, a woman was allowed to run in this last election in Mali, but
she only received 0.05% of the popular vote (Ford 64). This directly
shows the law allowing a woman to run for president, but the country
not embracing this change. As for adult literacy programs, even though
they are potentially a great idea, causing a trickling effect of a
mother learning to read, then teaching her children and a social
networking for the women coming together, they seem to be less
effective than hoped for (Puchner440). Also, I don't believe that they
are unanimously teaching the French language, which would open up a
window for the most amount of change in women's ranking in society.
Social constraints keep most women from participating completely in
these programs whether it is due to husband's wishes or chores that
restrict her from participation (Barka 19). As for school reform, if
the government can find a way to truly make education free, then some
significant changes in enrollment will be seen, but until then it will
remain the same.

I'm not suggesting that all women becoming fluent in French is the
answer to end discrimination; however, it is a start in the right
direction. I agree with Laurel Puchner when she says, "There is
evidence that schooling for girls may have beneficial socio-economic
outcomes in developing countries as well, and that these outcomes may
derive more from the changes in general attitudes and practices
influenced by schooling rather than from literacy skills themselves."

This discrimination involving a language barrier is being pressed on
women young and old. We see this in young boys being chosen over young
girls in the family to receive a formal education, which includes
learning French. We see it in older women staying so busy in the
household that they are unable to achieve social interaction with
other women outside the confinement of their home; not to mention the
constraints placed on them by their culture such as denying women of
status outside of the home (Schulz 22).

These factors tie together in a dynamic, circular relationship with
one influencing the other keeping women oppressed. Women are so poor
that they must work to survive causing them to be unable to receive an
education that allows them to converse in the language of policy
making and influence. Because of this poverty the family sometimes may
only choose one child to go to school. The cultural aspect of Malians
normally places the male child as the best candidate; he is then able
to converse in the language of policy making. This cultural choice
then in turn affects the young women's chance at changing their
opportunities to hold different positions in the hierarchical level of
decision making in the family, let alone the country.

Change cannot be made unless this circle is broken. Amartya Sen
reminds us that this situation is all the women know. They do not see
any other opportunity of freedom for themselves. Similarly Catharine
Mackinnon asks the question- how does one organize against something
if it isn't really realized to exist? I believe that women conversing
in French would open up the opportunity for women to realize and fight
for their freedom from oppression and enter into the world of policy
making and government to have influence in the decision making of
their well being and to better represent women as equals.

Works Cited

Badawi, Jamal A. "The Status of Women in Islam." Islam For Today 8 (1971): 2.

Barka, L.B. "Women Literacy Program in Mali." Journal of the African
Association for Literacy and Adult Education 6 (1992): 15-27.

Dall, Frank. "A Problem of Gender Access and Primary Education: A Mali
Case Study." HID Research Review: Research Findings of The Harvard
Institute for International Development 2 (1989): 6-7.

Ford, Neil. "Mali: Touré Wins Second Terms with Ease" African Business
332 (2007) p.64-65

"Mali-Statistics." UNICEF. 4 Nov. 2008

Puchner, Laurel. "Researching Women's Literacy in Mali: A Case Study
of Dialogue among Researchers, Practitioners, and Policy Makers."
Comparative Education Review 45 (2001): 242-56.

            —"Women and Literacy in Rural Mali: a Study of the
Socio-economic Impact of Participating in Literacy Programs in Four
Villages." International Journal of Educational Development 23 (2003):

Schulz, Dorothea E: "(Re)Turning to Proper Muslim Practice: Islamic
Moral Renewal and Women's Conflicting Assertions of Sunni Identity in
Urban Mali" Africa Today 54:4 (2008) p.20-43

Smith, Alex D. "Innovations in Mali." Review of African Political
Economy 25 (1998): 285-87.

Works Consulted

Enloe, Cynthia H. 2004. The Curious Feminist: Searching for Women in a
New Age of Empire. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

MacKinnon, Catharine A. 2006. Are Women Human?: And Other
International Dialogues. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard
University Press.

McClintock, Anne. 1995. Imperial Leather: Race, Gender, and Sexuality
in the Colonial Conquest. New York: Routledge.

Povey, Elaheh Rostami. 2001. "Feminist Contestations of Institutional
Domains in Iran." Feminist Review 69, winter: 44-72.

Sen, Amartya. 1999. "Human Rights and Economic Achievements." In The
East Asian Challenge for Human Rights, ed. Joanne R. Bauer and Daniel
A. Bell. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 88-99.

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