Strengthening women’s voices in Mali: Louisa’s story

Louisa Waugh is the Mali Country Manager at International Alert.

She oversees projects that we run across the country. In northern and central Mali our efforts focus on building trust between communities affected by conflict, while in the south we bring together companies and communities to ease tensions caused by goldmining. Our research shows that gender is one of the key factors for driving peaceful change in Mali.

"I love peacebuilding because it’s the foundation of any society. If people don’t trust each other and can’t cooperate, schools, hospitals and social services can’t function, peoples’ movements are limited and their quality of life begins to collapse. When you begin working with communities living in fear of each other, it’s a great challenge."

Demanding change for women in Mali

"This is the challenge I took up in Mali last year. Talking to other women across the country and helping them to create the change they want in their everyday lives is really smack in the heart of all my work here. It has become clear to me that we need better justice mechanisms in place that protect women, girls and boys from physical and sexual violence and begin to crush widespread impunity.

I also want stigmas around sexual violence to be powerfully challenged, so women in Mali are not effectively coerced into silence. I want Malian women to get long-term support to become the great leaders at regional and national level they can be! And I want them to feel safe to speak out about the issues that matter to them and demand changes on their own terms.

In some Malian communities, women are literally afraid to move for fear of being raped by armed gangs or security forces, and we need to address this head on. That means spending time with women in their communities, training people to lead legal and advocacy skills sessions, and responding to other issues as they arise."

Inspiring change from within

"Through this work I have learned particularly valuable lessons about how to work with people who are very different from me, to appreciate points of view I initially find difficult to understand or accept, and to speak to people at all levels. This is especially key for those who are very powerful and not used to negotiating.

This all filters into your personal life. I hope my work has made me more thoughtful and attentive to what one wise friend calls ‘the ambient atmosphere around us.’ I judge people less, accept more, and have learnt to laugh at (most) of my own mistakes!"

A Women’s Day tribute

"I have also had the fortune to get to know some hugely inspirational women through working in peacebuilding – a couple of whom I want to acknowledge this Women’s Day. In Gaza my friend and ex-colleague Mona al-Shawa, who runs the women’s department at the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), is a beacon of light in a land stripped of much hope.

In the Central African Republic (CAR), my ‘sister’ Tatiana Viviane runs a national NGO called Femmes Action Plus, and does an incredible job that never ends, supporting vulnerable women and children, especially those who have been violated by the Lords Resistance Army (LRA) in eastern CAR. She is a rock! She recently changed the name of her NGO to ‘Femmes Hommes Action Plus’ because as she says, 'in these times we need our brothers to walk alongside us.' Exactly."

> Read more inspirational stories from women around the world