Why women chose to migrate from Mali

Women-run Listening Clubs in the Sahel actively cooperate with community radios to widen freedom of expression.

In multiple villages in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, women often organize in civil society “listening” clubs which gather to actively listen to and discuss the programmes broadcast by their local radio stations. In IMS’s Sahel programme we have “twinned” these female listening clubs with the local radios and given them support so they themselves can also have a say in choosing the topics for debate, subsequently produced and broadcast in the communities.

The topics of their choice are every-day challenges in women’s lives, from pregnancies and raising children to poverty, income generating activities, peace/conflict, crime and politics, etc. The women’s listening clubs define what they want to know more about and what they want to discuss with the wider community. They then organize a discussion in their clubs, sometimes with resource-persons invited. The local radio station participates, records, produces and edits the programs (sometimes with the women involved in these processes too). Thereby the women do not only get the opportunity to gain more knowledge on  what is important to them, but they also get the opportunity to treat their issues of priority, raise their voices and form part of the public debate in their communities.

Women give and receive advice during a show in one of the local women's listerners clubs in Mali.

Radio Alafia from Northern Mali broadcast in the Zarma language. Their programs can be heard in Ansongo village and beyond in the Gao region. Gao region has long been both a point of departure and transit zone for migration to Algeria, Niger or Libya and further on to Europe. According to IOM, 97% of all the migrants are men, but migration of women is an increasing phenomenon, posing new challenges both for the women migrants and their communities. In this episode, local women discuss and share experiences on migration. 

Transcript in English

(Host) Dear participants, members in the club who are listening, good morning! This is our second time today that we’ve organized a public show at your center. Today we are going to talk about the migration of women and its consequences.

It is rare to see women migrate especially in our societies because in our culture a woman should not give herself access to this kind of activities. It has to be especially noted that when you leave your locality to go develop elsewhere nobody will develop your area for you. All the following generations will do the same. This phenomenon of women migration is not well developed in our region, but it has developed a lot in other regions of Mali. During the migration woman encounters a lot of difficulties. But first of all, what is the cause of women’s migration?

(Participant) The causes of female migration are generally poverty and war.

(Host) We are going to discuss these two points that you have just stated. Now, do you think that if the entire population of an area leaves it because of poverty, is that a solution for reducing this poverty? 

(Participant) No, this is not a solution to deal with poverty.

(Host) Obviously, this is not a solution to deal with poverty because as long as you do not invest part of the money you gained out of the migration from your previous locality to your new locality, you can never reduce poverty.

Now let’s talk about the second point which is war. It’s difficult to find a country in the world that has not experienced war or deadly conflicts. These conflicts that we’re experiencing today, countries like France have forgotten about them for over 100 years. This is the normal course of history. It is things that are predictable and that have happened. No country can develop until it has experienced a great movement like war. Today this phenomenon has created problems, weakened our countries. But little by little, countries will arrive to establish law and order and things will develop well.

I’m not advocating for war in our country but I’m just saying we’re just following history. To come back to our point, is war the cause of migration, especially female migration? Especially since we know that there are women who completely change their nationality, forget their country, their parents and family until they die outside.

(Participant) It is just an unhealthy intention of the person. War is far from being a reason for people to leave their country.

(Participant) In addition, there are some people who have hidden behaviors and mostly bad behaviors. They always use events as reason to flee the country and leave to develop this bad behavior somewhere else.

(Participant) Another thing, if you leave your country because of war, and you abandon part of your family, and if they are destroyed at the time of the war, what’s the use of migrating to you when you know that you’re migrating to be well and help our loved ones? I always question what can push a woman to abandon her family until she has forgotten them or even changed her identity. Is it misunderstanding, bad intention or the quest for easy gain?

(Participant) I think it’s a lack of faith. There are also those who want to force destiny by wanting to be what they are not, by wanting to compete with other women in the upper class.

(Host) According to Western research and studies, one of the causes is deception. There are Westerners who move African women to the West. Once there, these women take pictures next to pretty houses, on the sea or in snow. These photos make some people go crazy and decide to go there. There’s also the search for easy money. It is true that before, our elders who went to Spain and Italy made a lot of money, but this last generation did not get anything, and in the end they even lost their freedom and their dignity. They don’t have the possibility that we have of seeing our parents and move freely.

(Participant) I want to tell you a story. I went to France with a white woman. One day during my stay she asked me to watch a documentary in which we saw young blacks in a boat that is more than full. In that boat there were only two women. At one point the boat began to sink, and people were hanging on to pieces of a plank for a long time before being rescued by Western boats. But what’s funny is that the owner of the boat never gets on board with his customers, he takes the money and gets out. I also want to explain that this crossing requires a lot of money. Apart from transport there is also the money of the invocations for the marabouts, and sacrifices… It should be noted that 70% of the passengers died before the arrival of the rescuers. At the end of the documentary, a discussion begins between us. I let her know that these young people don’t know the normal way and that’s why they took the illegal way of the sea. She told me that it has nothing to do with that, they all know, but they have their own reason. The discussion was rough, then she gave up so as not to offend me. The next day I went to visit the relatives, there I found a brother who was going to work but do you know what his job was?! It was to take care of an old woman who cannot even get up. So, it’s washing her and changing her diapers. I was disgusted. When these migrants decide to come back home, they take loans from banks to come and wander around Africa, and we get are excited too, and their departure tempts us. But you have to know that they have nothing, all of what they work for ends up in rent, transportation and food.

(Host) I want to add to what our sister just said, it’s not easy to see an immigrant taking a photo at his workplace. It’s always after work he takes photos close to a beautiful car or a nice house that isn’t his. It should also be noted that the wealthiest are those who work in security. The intellectuals who have a specialisation never cross the illegal way of the sea. It’s always the legal ways. The formal way of applying for the visa to join Europe and obtaining this document is not that easy. To get it, you need assistance from an institution, an organisation or a friend. There’s also exile visa when someone is in trouble in his country. He can use that as a reason to get the short period visa. Again, what we see on the side of women when time comes to return home some women decide to get pregnant with some white men to be able to get the legal right to stay. At this level she has to be lucky to find a responsible man who accepts to recognise the child. But in recent years the migration victim toll has increased, and the two main routes followed by migrants are known. The first one is to travel to Agadez, then Dirkou in Niger and from Dirkou to Libya. But the big problem is in Libya. In Libya they get imprisoned, some are killed. Especially many women have experienced sexual violence. If by chance you arrive at the boat, the owner will never be with you. They ask among migrants who knows how to sail, how to handle a compass etc. There was another way that the migrants no longer use, it is the road, Gao then Kidal, Algeria and Morocco to get into the boats but this road is completely abandoned. To stop this flow, Western countries are paying billions to the government of Niger, but it cannot stop these movements, but things have started to change. It is true that there are communities that have gained money on migration, but the majority are only suffering. There are migrants who are welcomed in shelters, in these shelters instead of putting 10 people, they put 50 to 70 people. You sleep very badly, and you find people who will spend 10 years or even 15 years wandering, unable to feed themselves.

(Participant) We’re very sorry about what is going on because we learned that there are sisters who share their bed with dogs.

(Participant) I want to tell you a story, one year I was coming back from France and on the plane, I met a little lady. When she heard us speaking our language, she told me that she was in Bamako the last three days. I was amazed to see a person who travel without problem but what does she do as job? I didn’t hesitate to ask her that question. She simply nodded her head. I insisted but my brother told me to give it up. But when we arrived at the airport and you see the lady’s diplomatic bags, I really wonder who she is. In the end I understood that it wasn’t any type of job you can easily explain, I understood that it was drug-business. All because of the money.

(Participant) I too have had a story like this. One year an aunt who left Nigeria came with a gentleman to our house. The woman called me aside and said to me that I must give the suitcase to a driver who I trust, and she would pick it up after. When she left, I did what she asked me to. A few days later, the gentleman came to ask me for the suitcase, I asked “but what suitcase”? After explanation I brought the gentleman to the driver who took the suitcase. At this time, I understood that the woman took advantage of him. He spent a long time looking for the woman, but nothing. This made me realise that it was drugs.

(Host) The point that drives a lot of people to leave is mainly the strength of their currencies. One euro gives 650 West African francs. If not, we can work well in the country. Migration is a disease which is developing at the speed of light and which is causing enormous damage in our countries. Because of migration black people are no longer respected. For a man, it’s fine, but when women are tortured, it hurts. We are not telling women not to travel but they must do it legally. We can also go to Togo, Niamey, Benin, buy items in Belgium and come and sell them in the country. We urge you to kindly make your children and your sisters aware of the danger that awaits them in this illegal migration, because it is dangerous.

(Host) What do you take away from this talk?

(Participant) We have learned a lot. Indeed, we never knew that in these boats there are women. We have understood and know the difficulties that women encounter in this migration. The show also allowed us to identify many factors that push young people, especially women, to go to the other side, to Europe. We can only say thank you for this program which has educated us a lot.

This program was produced with the support of CN-RACOM and IMS.


Translated by KL Translations LTD

Navigating a changing world: media’s gendered prism

IMS’ media reader on gender and sexuality

Navigating a changing world: media’s gendered prism

Navigating a changing world: media’s gendered prism

Navigating a changing world: media’s gendered prism

IMS’ media reader on gender and sexuality