In a country where literacy rate is just 33.4% according to UNICEF , a lady has put it on herself to be of tremendeous benefit to people, especially women, in her country. Her name is Mariam Diallo Drame.
With about ten years of experience as a leader in promoting youth leadership and gender equality, Mrs Drame was the Regional Coordinator Sub-Saharan Africa of International Knowledge Network of Women in Politics (iKNOW Politics). She has a proven expertise on issues of gender, Elections, Politics and human right. Mariam founded and Chaired the Association Women Leadership and Sustainable Development to promote gender equality among youth. Mariam is a member of the President Obama’s Forum with Young African Leaders; member of the Francophone Women’s World Forum (Elysées in 2013). She has a Pan-African experience with the African Union. She is Electoral Observer of the African Union. Co-author of Gender and Election manual published in Mali in 2013 (NDI). She is a Member of the civil society consultative council of UN WOMEN. Engaged for Climate Justice, she is also a member of the Network of Human right defender in Mali. She received the Award of Merit in 2015.
Sustyvibes caught up with her to get progress on the impact her work has had on her people:
Please introduce yourself –The way you want the world to know you
My name is Mariam and I am an activist for women and girls empowerment and climate justice. I am a Happily married mother of three.
Is there anything or event that led you to becoming an Activist for the Girl Child?
It was not an event but in Mali there are so many beggars on the street and when we went to school, I used to give my pocket money to them. Sometimes, I gave them everything and I walk (by then I’ve become part of a youth lead association to help beggars and promote the convention on the children’s right). Later we became members of the first children parliament in Mali. There we advocated building it as an institution and that happened. I was very young but highly motivated to support children’s right.
Unfortunately we have more beggars in the street now.
I understand you are the founding President of Association of Women of Women’ s Leadership and Sustainable Development (AFLED). What is it about?
AFLED about empowering women and girls and promote gender equality. We work on leadership to encourage young women participation in public decision.
Education to promote girls education
Entrepreneurship: we provide training to young women who have small businesses we help them to improve their management.
Health: reproductive health is a concern in Mali, we offer contraception to young women and adolescent girls. We raise awareness on HIV Aids.
Sustainable development: at the global level we are involved in the advocacy for climate justice and we promote renewable energy in Mali. We are asking for solutions that respect indigenous people’s right and human right in general.
What are the challenges you has faced since it was founded?
The first one was about securing a seat for young women in the fight for women’s right. This field was dominated by older women who culturally don’t value young inputs. So we had to prove that we deserved to stand next to them. For that, we placed an argument as regards listening when they talk about poverty, early marriage, non- education,HIV while the majority of women facing that are under 15! Secondly, we reinforced our structure to be able to get funding and we succeeded
In 2012 Mali had a rebellion and consequences were terrible on women and girls. So we had to develop an emergency and humanitarian program to support young women IDPs. Another challenge in Mali increase in violence against. Half of the married women experience violence and there is no law against gender-based violence.
Can you please share some of the success stories of the AFLED Organization?
Six years after creating AFLED, we are now part of every decision regarding gender in Mali. Few months ago, I was invited to join women leaders to discuss with the UN Security Council. We are members of several networks promoting gender and climate justice at national and international level. Many young women have been inspired by AFLED. Some have joined, while others have created organization to fight against discrimination. We had at COP22 a booth to promote AFLED project for protecting environment by reducing waste. It was the opportunity to advocate for climate justice and present the perspective of Mali. We were proudly part of the presidential elections by discussing with candidates on their project and how they will address gender issues. In 2012, we were among first organizations to denounce Gender-Based Violence (GDV) n the North of Mali.
What are your favourite SDG’s and why?
Hard to decide I would say: Education (4) because that’s the key to empower women.
An educated woman knows how to ask for their rights.
Gender equality (5): half of the population can’t be left behind if we want to ensure a prosperous and harmonious development.
Climate action (13): education and equality are great but we need to live on this earth and leave it to new generation. In addition, women are those who suffer from climate change more than men. Consequently they are victim of double injustice: gender and climate change.
How do you think the SDG’s can work in Mali?
SDG’s are part of Mali development plan. All official statement and government program are based on it yet implementation is challenging.
To me, its time for Mali and many developing countries to respect their commitment regarding international law and conventions. Before signing and ratifying, if they doubt it can’t work, they have the responsibility to negociate a win-win partnership. An Example in Mali now is: it is very difficult to talk about gender equality because half of the population is non-educated and poor and they are loyal more to traditional and religious leaders than to the government. SDG’s correspond to what we aspire but the main challenge remains transparency and good governance. No matter what program we may have, if it is not handled transparently, it can’t work. We have billions but people are still poor ! A few people are sharing the wealth and the gap between poor and rich is growing! As a civil society, our duty is to advocate and pressure the government to respect his commitment and to improve the way they manage public funds.
I learnt you were invited to the White House and even got to meet with President Obama, so how were you able to pull it off?
The State Department launched a call for young candidates in Africa engaged in public life. I have a friend who shared it with me. I was skeptic to apply as I have a two month baby girl I was breastfeeding. Finally I applied two days after The US Embassy in Mali notified me I was selected. We were the ‘YALI” first generation in 2010. I went with my daughter and left her at a hotel during the daytime with someone. It was very challenging for me but as woman, I shall face my multi-tasking and any task must not be left behind. We had a town hall meeting with President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and most prominent members of Obama’s administration. We have built a strong network among ourselves and with US based organizations. Back home we have implemented project thanks to the US Embassy funding. This program increased my credibility and expanded my network. I am thankful to President Obama for his trust to African youth and how he has invested in us.
In your opinion, based on the build up to the United States elections, campaign statements by Donald Trump and his eventual electoral victory, do you think all this will have an effect on the fight for the liberation of the Girl Child in the world over?
I was shocked by Trump’s comment and women and concerned about how he is going to deal with gender issues but at the end of the day, a woman gave birth to him, he is married and has a daughter. His decision as President will impact them too. I believe he won’t be a bad President as he won’t do half of what he said. He is smarter than what people think. I trust institutions are strong enough he won’t act unilaterally. Wait and see.
What future do you see on the rights of Women in Mali?
Well, if I see the Family Bill that took women back to one century ago, if I see the crisis we are facing and the rise of Fundamentalism, I am very concerned and skepti
But if I look at how Malian women are strong because we face challenges everywhere at home, work place, neighbourhood despite the daily suffering, young women rising in every field with ideas, innovations, projects; women refusing early marriage or excision and preferring to study, I am confident because our generation will make the difference! We are educated and open to the world while we are guardian of our values and culture: the two are not opposite.
What is it about you that not a lot of people know?
I am a careful wife outside: I am Mariam the leader, the strong woman! At home, I am very kind and I surrender to my husband, kids, brother and sisters and I manage to do whatever they want me to.
What is the one thing you want to tell Malian ladies and Africans generally looking to make a difference?
First of all, we have to know and accept and be proud of ourselves as Africans. We have to be open minded but not to forget ourselves. We have to deal with many tasks and responsibilities and even carry the burden the society put on our shoulders. But never shall we accept violence or anyone telling us we can’t make it. We are at the beginning and the end of everything in our world. Only we as African women we can change the continent. Let us rise and shine. Stay focused!
How can people reach you or learn about your work?
On Twitter @poulodebo , Facebook page: Association femmes Leadership and Development Durable