Throughout our partner communities in Mali, religious leaders not only serve as spokespeople for their communities but also play a key role by engaging community members in discussions about human rights and harmful traditional practices. The national coordination of Tostan in Mali recently brought together 30 religious leaders from different faith backgrounds for an interfaith meeting on June 24, 2014 in the rural community of Sirakorola to discuss the progress of the Community Empowerment Program (CEP), as well as share expectations of the rest of the program.

During the meeting, religious leaders split into small working groups and exchanged ideas on the roles they can play to support the process of promoting human rights. Each person shared an action plan they intend to execute in their communities to help reach the objectives set in the Tostan program.

While these religious leaders are not CEP participants, they suggested becoming class participants as a solution which could benefit the community as a whole. For example, as class participants, they could encourage other men to participate, be involved in the movement to raise awareness about the harmful consequences of female genital cutting (FGC) and child/forced marriage, and educate communities on how various religions view these practices.

They also discussed positive social changes that have occurred during the program, such as regularly monitoring children’s school attendance, ensuring women attend pre- and postnatal consultations, ensuring that community health funds are properly managed, organizing regular village clean-up days, constructing improved wood-burning stoves, managing community-run microcredit funds, increasing marriage celebrations and registering for marriage certificates at the City Hall, and implementing more income generating activities.

The leaders expressed their gratitude for the significant achievements by the communities in the areas of governance, education, health, the environment and the economy brought about by Tostan’s intervention.

The meeting ended with prayers and blessings for the future activities of the program to develop more cohesion in communities. This interfaith meeting brings hope for a peaceful future and greater understanding between people from all religions.

Story by Moussa Diallo, Assistant to the Regional Coordinator in Mali, Tostan