While rights groups are celebrating a newly-adopted family code in Mali that changes marriage laws and expands girls’ rights, Muslim leaders and youths have vowed, even threatening violence, to block the code from becoming law.
The code – under discussion for 10 years before its adoption on 3 August – includes more than 1,100 new articles, including setting the legal minimum age for marriage at 18, abolishing the death penalty, recognizing only secular marriages and expanding inheritance rights to girls. The code must be approved by the president to become law.
The secretary of Mali’s highest ruling Islamic council, Mohamed Kimbiri, told IRIN the council will do all it can to block enforcement. “This code is a shame, treason [for Muslims]…We are not against the spirit of the code, but we want a code appropriate for Mali that is adapted to its societal values. We will fight with all our resources so that this code is not promulgated or enacted.”
He said despite consulting members of the religious community on the code’s wording, parliament members ignored religious leaders’ suggestions and bowed to donor wishes.
“We do not want a code imported from donors, notably the European Union, which conditions its aid on certain social reforms, including the adoption of this code,” Kimbiri said. “The assembly adopted it under pressure. But we will not be pressured [into accepting] a code that is not ours.”
From 2000 to 2007 the European Union gave some US$640 million for poverty reduction in Mali.
|I cannot go before my voters and tell them religious marriages are not legal...that a woman should no longer obey her husband|
But the president of a national women’s association of NGOs, Oumou Touré, said the family code is a “constitutional and democratic demand” that promotes social justice. “Many girls married at 10, 11 or 12 have died in recent years in the region of Kayes [500km northeast of Bamako]… The new code will put the brakes [on this] because the guilty will from now on be punished and fined.”
Amnesty International estimated in 2005 that more than 60 percent of young women in Mali married before the age of 18.
At a meeting called by the Islamic council on 9 August at the largest mosque in the capital Bamako, hundreds of religious and village leaders gathered in opposition to the code.
“We cannot ban traditional marriages,” said one of Bamako’s district leaders, Bouramablen Traoré. The president of a Muslim youth group, Amadou Bah, asked followers to “curse government officials who voted yes to the family code”, calling them “anti-Islamists” who “will be sanctioned by the All-Powerful”.
Religious leader El Hadj Koké Kallé intervened to stop would-be arsonists from reaching the National Assembly 100m from the mosque.
One of five parliament members who voted against the code, Abdoulaye Dembélé, said he could not risk upsetting his constituents. “I cannot go before my voters and tell them that religious marriages are not legal… that a woman should no longer obey her husband and that they should respect one another equally… If I do this, voters will punish me in the next elections.”
National Assembly President Dioncounda Traoré, one of 117 lawmakers who voted for the code, said all lawmakers must now educate their communities. “All representatives have the obligation to get information to their constituents about the advantages of this [proposed] law.”
The government has not yet indicated how it will enforce the proposed law.
Minister of Justice Maharafa Traoré told IRIN there will always be opposition to reform. “We cannot create change without triggering some noise; it is difficult to have unanimous agreement around any one reform. That is why we will educate citizens in order to…overcome all resistance.
“We never said the text [of the code] is perfect, far from it. But we will correct the gaps as the law is enacted,” the Justice Minister said.
Bamako-based Muslim leader Daouda Dia told IRIN the code contains needed changes. “Women have always been considered second rank here, which is not normal. We are all equal. I do not see any problem with the article that women and men should have mutual respect. If women have the money to contribute to family finances, I would not be against that.”
The difficult part is to get the word out to women about the new code, said NGO association leader Touré. “We know there are sectors that oppose the code that will sow discord in the citizens’ spirits.”