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Who wants women’s rights in Mali?

August 28, 2009

A women’s rights law, adopted by parliament in Mali last month, has just been blocked by the President in order to preserve national unity after major outcries.  The law, if enacted, would’ve given women in Mali monumental rights, including equal rights in marriage and better inheritance rights for women and children born out of wedlock.

Since it was introduced last month, the law has been protested by scads of people, including

If she were an intellectual, would she demand more rights?

If she were an "intellectual," would she demand more rights?

women, in this majority-Muslim nation.  They say the new rights work against the Koran and the traditional cultural norms in Mali.

What’s interesting about the objections on the bill — particularly the part that extended new rights to women in marriage, who under the current law must “obey” their husband — is the leading role that some women themselves took. 

Hadja Safiatou Dembele, president of the National Union of Muslim Women’s Associations claims that it’s just the intellectual women in the country who want the law changed, and that “the poor and illiterate women of this country, the real Muslims,” want things left the way they are.

This is the old cultural relativism question rearing it’s head: are these women truly happy with the way things are, or can they not even fathom the rights they could potentially enjoy?  What role, if any should international groups play in supporting the re-introduction of the bill?  Is it maternalistic to push for new women’s rights in a country where, supposedly, many women are fine the way things are?  Why should being an “intellectual” make a woman any more apt to wanting/needing rights than a woman who is “poor and illiterate”?

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