Women Living With Disabilities Rise to Fame in the Malian Media Amid Their Obstacles

Less than a year ago, the prime minister of Mali signed a new social decree that protects the rights of people with disabilities (PWD) and passed it into law. The law promises improvements in the lives of PWDs and is supposed to ensure that PWDs claim their rights and gain greater access to employment, education, and social benefits. However, the reality is that PWDs, particularly, Malian disabled women, are often unseen in society. They face twice the discrimination, due to their gender and their disabilities, in their daily activities and social engagements. Poverty, illiteracy, high unemployment, high probability of gender-based violence, psychological issues, and stigma all affect these women.

Because of these stigmas, many people with disabilities lack the skills to be assertive, struggle to find their voice, and do not participate in decision-making to help their communities. Usually, when a person with a disability decides to attend a community ceremony or activities, they are discouraged from participating due to their physical ailment, alienating them even further. Aissata Kanou Diallo, a little person (someone living with dwarfism) and an active member of a women-led civil society organization (CSO) for women with disabilities stated that her parents, on more than one occasion, have stopped her from attending a community event by telling her “You are a person living with a disability. People will make fun of you and not take you seriously,” and do not allow her to participate. 

However, despite the many challenges PWDs face in Mali, there are some who stand up to the discrimination they and others face. Internews in Mali is working to support CSOs and political parties to strengthen the leadership skills and political participation of women, with a focus on those living with disabilities. In 2021, Internews launched a training of trainers’ session for women-led CSOs from Bamako and seven regions of Mali on leadership concepts, communication skills, social media use, and advocacy techniques. Two of the training participants were women living with disabilities. Following the training, Internews identified the three most successful women from three of the CSOs and gave them small grants to train other women-led CSOs in Bamako, Segou, and Mopti. The Association pour le Renforcement des Capacités des Personnes Handicapées (ARCAPH) was one of the grantees and Mariam Sogoré was selected to be the trainer.

Mariam Sogoré (pictured below) walks with the aid of crutches because both her legs are affected by her disability due to a polio vaccine she was administered during her early childhood. However, this has not prevented her from obtaining a master’s degree in English from the Faculty of Languages, Arts, and Social Sciences at the University of Bamako. When Mariam was nominated to be a trainer for her peers, she was reluctant. However, Mariam accepted the appointment and stated that “This is an opportunity for me to put into practice the excellent leadership, public speaking, advocacy, and video filming skills and tools that I have acquired through training,” Mariam delivered the training to several members of her organization, ARCAPH, and two other CSOs of people with disabilities. 

Ever since the training, Mariam has been climbing social and professional ladders. ’’Most people treat me with more respect since I became a trainer, a TV presenter, and a trainee in a key Ministry’’ said Mariam. ‘’At first, I did not feel at all comfortable because it was my first time to participate in such a training. I thought I had learned everything at university. It was then during this training session that I realized I lacked certain skills. Little by little, I was able to overcome my fear of public speaking and assert myself thanks to the different modules such as video editing, leadership, public communication, advocacy, and public speaking. It was just amazing’’, said Mariam about what the training helped change in her.

More has changed in Mariam’s life and attitude ‘’I felt even more ready after being chosen to deliver the training. I was so proud of all the skills and knowledge I have acquired. After the training, I feel more confident in myself and have more enthusiasm and courage to express myself in front of any public. I said to myself “I succeeded!”, ‘’I made it!’’ My biggest surprise and pride are that this training inspired the creation of a WebTV program called ‘’Ludjuratow ka hakè.” I’m so proud to the presenter of the program. Being a TV presenter has become my passion’’, she said.

For almost three months now, Mariam has been presenting a web TV show on FemmmesPlus TV Mali entitled “ludjuratow ka hakè(which means the rights of people living with disabilities in Bambara). Following the training Mariam delivered, she and her colleagues agreed to create a TV show where they could have their voices heard and better explain what it means to be a woman living with a disability in Mali. On the WhatsApp group they created, Mariam’s name appeared as the person best qualified to present the show based on her new skills. Then came the ’Ludjuratow ka hakè.” show and Mariam’s designation as the lead presenter. The show hosts mainly people living with disabilities to inform viewers and raise awareness on disabilities, the challenges they face, and how they continue to strive to greatness. ”I realize that television presenting is my job, and I am committed to moving forward, given the public speaking skills I have acquired through the training, which give me confidence in my abilities.”

Moreover, Mariam was recently selected to serve under a six-month internship program at the Department of International Organizations of the Malian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. At the end of the internship, Mariam’s ambition is to be officially hired in the government civil service. Mariam is not the only trained woman to gain notoriety. On FemmePlus TV, Aissata Kanou Diallo, another woman living with dwarfism, played a key role in the TV’s Seven Days of Activism campaign during which she highlighted violence against women with disabilities, political participation of women living with disabilities and those with difficult access to public places and problems related to albinism. Aissata, a presenter on FemmesPlus TV, hosted Aminata Bocoum, a visually impaired woman who holds a master’s degree in Education Science, and Mrs. Rokia Diakité, the President of ARCPH. Aissata’s shows are also broadcast on Radio Benkan in Bamako and Radio Brico in Kita.

While this is encouraging, Internews is aware of the limitations of PWDs in social and traditional media spaces. Shows for PWDs, especially women are rare in the Malian media space. However, when given the platform, the reach of their content goes far. This is consistent with Internews’ view of the benefits of long-term investment in local media — not only as a source of information for marginalized communities, but also as a channel for highlighting forgotten champions in a country going through difficult political times. The experience of Mariam shows the power in marginalized communities having proper training to share their message. Empowerment can mean different things for different women. Malian women do not speak with one voice, so their diverse perspectives (in this case that of PWDs), experience, and expertise must also be considered in all types of broadcasting.