Women in Mali forced to cover up

Violence in central Mali has escalated dramatically over the past months as Islamic State intensifies its insurgency across the Saleh region. Some 4,000 people across Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, were killed in terrorist attacks in 2019, compared to 770 just three years earlier. Jihadist groups are occupying more and more villages in central Mali, and the consequences for the local population are far-reaching – and sometimes unexpected as RNW Media’s Benbere platform reports in the blog below.

Mopti: under jihadi rule, it’s the veil for women

Everyone knows that the niqab is a hot fashion item in areas controlled by Jihadi militants. Vendors at the Mopti market are rubbing their hands in anticipation. Fresh, smoked and dried fish, fruits and vegetables, works of art, all kinds of miscellaneous items … the market in the town of Mopti in central Mali has a bit of everything.

Risking corporal punishment
Stalls offering niqabs are popular– especially for people from the surrounding villages. Women living in areas under the control of jihadi groups are coming to Mopti in search of these garments which used to be worn by only a tiny segment of Mali’s population. The “sayé balejo”, or “bouroumoussi fiman” in the local language Bamanakan, is the long black variant of the niqab which leaves only a woman’s eyes uncovered. It’s being bought by women living in rural areas where occupying jihadis are forcing women to veil themselves on pain of corporal punishment to be inflicted in husband and wife.

The “Sayé balejo” business
This restrictive outfit is not to everyone’s taste – but they are buying it nevertheless. Kadidia* lives in the village of Saré Ila and is an unwilling fashion victim:

I’m not used to covering myself from head to toe, but I have to. I wear the veil in spite of myself. I’m really afraid of reprisals.

Kadida’s fear is well- grounded. In January her village, not far from the town of Mopti, was raided by armed men intent on forcing women to wear the veil. Some women ‘offenders’ were even publicly flogged in the village square.

Unwelcome profits
Since this incident, women living in areas under the control of jihadists have been forced to fall into line and traders in the town of Mopti have rapidly multiplied their stock of niqabs. Prices have shot up as well – almost doubling due to the high demand. Market trader Amidou*, says he’s making a big profit but he deplores the reason why:

Our shops are much in demand these days by customers from the villages. In my opinion, even if I find my daily bread in it, I am against the fact that some individuals force people to do things that are against their will.

Absence of the State
The absence of any governmental support is strongly criticised by those living in areas under the yoke of jihadi occupation. Dijby*, a shopkeeper based in Dogo, a village in the Youwarou circle, in the Mopti region says:

We no longer know if we are Malians. We no longer have hope for the return of the administration. We have lasted so long with these people that we are now used to them.

He is one of many in central Mali who accuse the state of abandoning parts of the country and leaving the way clear for armed groups to dictate the law at the expense of peaceful citizens.

*All names have been changed

Click here to read the original blog in French by Alain Fofana on the Benbere platform