Women’s participation in the defense and security forces in Mali: A vehicle for trust

October 15, 2018

Identifying obstacles and solutions to building peace in Mali

One of the main obstacles to peace in Mali is the recurrence of unresolved conflicts. This has largely been due to limitations and failures in conflict management and conflict resolution methods applied by state and non-state actors throughout Mali’s history. According to Malians consulted through dialogue processes led by IMRAP and Interpeace, most citizens do not feel consulted by national, regional and local resolution processes and feel abandoned by the state. Consequently, communities often lack trust in government institutions and their representatives, such as the defense and security forces (DSF).

The previous participatory action research (PAR) processes led by IMRAP and Interpeace, “Self-portrait of Mali, obstacles to peace” and “Building trust between civilian populations and the defense and security forces: diagnosis and solutions for sustainable peace in Mali”, have shed light on the profound lack of trust between communities and their armed forces.  The research revealed that the Malian population believes that restoring trust between communities and DSF is a key factor in building peace.

In addition to this, women are lacking participation in governance and decision-making spheres. Paradoxically, it is especially women who play a key role in fueling and resolving conflicts in Mali, particularly outside of the formal spheres. Therefore, it is essential to improve women’s participation in Mali’s security apparatus in order to foster trust between civilians and DSF.

In April 2017, a new PAR was initiated as a follow-up to previous processes dealing with the question of trust-building between communities and DSF. This research was implemented with the support of the United Nations Peacebuilding Fund Gender Promotion Initiative.

The research focused on (i) improving trust between women and the DSF’s and (ii) promoting women’s participation in the defense and security forces in Mali.

Defense and Security Forces in Mali. Photo credit: IMRAP

Beyond the rights of women, a question of peace for Mali

Promoting female personnel in the DSF is not an end in itself, but rather a means to advance the Malian peace process. Women’s participation is needed to build trust between the population and the DSF. This, in turn, will foster sustainable peace in Mali.

The participation of women in the DSF increases the population’s acceptance of the armed forces. As participants illustrated during the consultation process, seeing a woman in uniform often makes civilians feel more at ease, particularly women, and attenuates their fear. The female figure is often associated with non-violence by the communities consulted. Moreover, increased trust and collaboration between the defense and security forces and the population allows the DSF to better fulfill their mission and reduce violent confrontations.

The report entitled “From trial to success”: Women’s participation in the defense and security forces in Mali: a vehicle for trust, was launched on 4 October 2018 in Bamako, Mali. The recommendations and solutions identified in this study will support Malian women’s participation in the defense and security forces and in the security sector reform.

During the consultation phase, IMRAP’s audiovisual team captured the opinions expressed by the various participants. These can now be seen in a short film that faithfully reproduces the viewpoints of the actors involved in the process. Watch the short film with French subtitles here.

Ensuring a locally-owned process

Consultations began in October 2017. More than 3000 people were consulted through focus groups and individual interviews in the regions of Gao, Timbuktu and Bamako, and preliminary research results were disseminated in Kayes, Koulikoro, Sikasso and Ségou. These disseminations generated important debates that were included in the results of the final report. The consultations engaged a wide range of actors, representing different social groups in Mali, including members of the DSF, women, young people as well as administrative, religious, traditional and political authorities.

This research is part of a wider programme led by the Malian Government in collaboration with its partners, aimed at promoting the role of women in society and public life.

This report includes recommendations for concrete actions that can be taken to improve women’s participation in the defense and security forces, thus contributing to stronger trust and collaboration between DSF and civilians, and, in turn, to peace.

Read the full report in French here.

Read the Illustrated Synthesis in French and English.