Behind the Voices - "It is as if Malian youth were kept prisoners."
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We are in Mali this week to meet Fatouma. She tells us about her commitment to women’s rights, how she got where she is now, as well as about the role of youth in the Malian presidential elections that were just concluded.
My name is Fatouma Harber, I was born in Timbuktu, but I spent my childhood in Niger where I graduated from the Municipal High School of Niamey. I obtained my Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology at the University of Bamako, Faculty of Arts. Since 2007, I have been a professor of Psychopedagogy at the Teachers’ College, where I am also in charge of the questions of school-related laws, professional ethics and French language. I have also been part of a workshop on written press at the NGO Togunet in 2003. I came back to live in Timbuktu at the end of my university studies. I became an intern for an office that was specialized in the design of development projects, which is where I established contacts with female associations in Timbuktu to help them create collective projects for which they then try to find funding.
Since 2011, I have been adding blogging to my skills. I am blogging on Radio France International’s francophone platform Mondoblog, under the pseudonym of Faty. The reason I applied to that job was because I wanted to communicate about what was happening in Timbuktu, but also in order to fight for the empowerment of African women, not to forget politics. I keep a page that I call “my feminism”. It is not any new form of feminism, it is simply « empowerment feminism » : these are the same ideas as those of the first African feminists, who contributed to the fight for the independence of Africa. Women have to obtain equality, but this can only happen through what I call “power”: the work of every woman to be recognized for her value and her capacity to accomplish work just as any man would. This will happen if we educate little girls just like we do little boys, and if we get rid of harmful traditions (such as female genital cutting and forced marriage) while keeping those which are essential to our identity.
-What are the expectations of youth in Mali ?
It is as if Malian youth were kept prisoners. The literacy rate is very low, while education and culture are the best and most certain ways to achieve development. We are hoping for a democracy that will enable us to really benefit from equal opportunity: no more preferential treatment, no more nepotism or corruption.
-What was the role of young people in the presidential campaign that was recently concluded ? Did you get the impression that the presidential candidates were taking youth into account in their programmes?
My feelings are mixed. The political and social situation of Mali is particular and fragile. I took time to study the programmes of the eligible candidates – to be honest it was hard, despite their frequent TV interventions, to know all the numerous candidates. Some talk about 300,000 new jobs for youth, others about the fact that we need to reenergize the system, while handing over T-shirts, tea and sugar to young people in order to buy their votes. It is as if they didn’t see that the students are in the streets because of the teachers’ strike, or that the scholarships take 6 months to be delivered. That those who graduate from university end up unemployed and some have to try to migrate out of the country, on clandestine roads, to finish as food for the fish of the ocean.
-Are you an active citizen ? What are you committed to ?
Yes I am an engaged citizen, I focus on helping the have-nots, more specifically the women of Timbuktu who have suffered the most from the occupation of the city by pseudo-jihadists. My goal is to open a radio station that we would call “Women’s Voice”, not only to allow them to express the violence that they have endured, but also to enable the development of a culture of peace through dialogue and the respect of all communities. It is only a project for now.
I am also part of an organization called Koira Faba, that fights for the development of the city of Timbuktu by combining the skills of its various members, mostly teachers. We plant trees, take care of public hygiene and raise awareness about peace and democracy.
-What is your favorite expression ?
My favorite expression? Life is a fight that ends in the grave… it is important to always fight for one’s ideas and to not be afraid to express them.
-Do you have a message or a piece of advice for youth out there ?
You have to believe in yourself, but in other people as well. It is not worth rejecting people because they are foreign or different…