This International Women’s Day, we’re celebrating the incredible ways women across Mali have applied their new knowledge and skills learned during the Community Empowerment Program (CEP) to fit their unique lives.

Overcoming discrimination and finding one’s voice

“I was very embarrassed to get involved in social events due to the color of my skin [as an albino]. People everywhere were suspicious of me and that really hurt. Now, since Tostan has come to our community, I knew from the first moments that I am worth something and that I have a place in the development of my village. After seeing the session on the right to be protected from all forms of discrimination during the Kobi 1 [module of the CEP], I gained confidence in myself. I was validated by this session and I am no longer afraid to appear in public, anywhere or anytime. Beyond that, I can give my opinion on any issue when we’re trying to find solutions by consensus. I am co-head of the income-generating activities commission of our Community Management Committee [CMC], and I’m very proud of this significant position.”

– Wassa Traore, participant and CMC member from Koyo

Reclaiming the right to basic literacy

“The Tostan program changed my life. Before Tostan, I didn’t know how to read or write like the majority of women in our community because I didn’t have the opportunity to go to school. Now, because of the Tostan program, I know how to read and write my letters, syllables, words, and sentences. Also, I can use a cell phone to make calls, save phone numbers, and write and send messages.”

– Douguô Coulibaly, participant from Dougourakoro

“The Aawde [module of the CEP] is like a miracle in my life. I’ve heard a lot about the content of other literacy programs, but Tostan’s program is unique. Nowhere in Mali will you find a literacy program that teaches you about the mobile phone for community development like Tostan does. Before participating in the Tostan program, the phone was just a transmitting device for us, but with the techniques used in the program, we learned the importance of this tool in the world today. Thanks to Tostan, we can use many features of the mobile phone without any problems, such as recording our appointments, programming the clock for a reminder, using the calculator, sending and receiving text messages, and much more.”

– Salimata Coulibaly, participant and CMC member from Koyo

Building inclusive communities

“Tostan’s program has brought a lot of change in our thinking about the role of women in decision-making. Before, the men met together and made decisions, whether for their families or the whole community. The women were then informed. There was a tradition that forbade women from even entering the place where community leaders met. All this changed without any tension with the arrival of the Tostan program in our village. Now the women take part in the meetings with the men and give their opinions. In our community, women now participate fully in decision-making with men and we owe this to Tostan.”

– Fatoumata Traoré, CMC Coordinator from Sirado

“In my life, I never thought that one day I would be responsible for my community at this level. Discussing community problems with men was almost unimaginable for me at one point in my life. Now, thanks to the Tostan program, my opinions are accounted for and accepted in the decision-making community. Development has become an issue for everyone in our community; it’s not a mission solely reserved for the men. I am proud of myself today.”

– Nyakoro Coulibaly, participant & CMC member in Katiola

Championing women’s health

“Before Tostan arrived, the question of female genital cutting was taboo in the community. Even in the health centers, this subject could never be addressed. Now as health workers, we can tackle this topic, thanks to the Tostan program, which gave the communities a lot of information regarding health.”

– Mariam Coulibaly, health center worker in Choala

Taking advantage of new opportunities

“Tostan is a light in our communities in the sense that the CEP gives us so much useful information for the essential aspects of life for individuals and communities. Through the [Tostan-sponsored] radio shows that I listened to regularly, we learned new knowledge about human rights, peace, health, education, income generating activities. I hope with all my heart that Tostan will bring its program directly to our community.”

– Fanta Diarra, community leader from “adopted” village of Dianikoro

Growing small businesses

“The loan I received through the community development grant helped me a lot. I sell onions at the market. Before, I sold the onions by the bunch. When I received the loan from the CMC, I was able to increase my business. Now I sell the onions by the bag and my profits have increased a lot.”

– Douguô Coulibaly, participant from Dougourakoro

“What especially pleased and surprised me was being able to take advantage of a calculator in my small business activities. I never thought that one day I would use a tool like that. This was a very important shift in my life.”

– Nyakoro Coulibaly, participant & CMC member in Katiola

While we facilitate information flow and learning through our program, the community members—especially women—are the ones bringing about concrete change. These Malian women are a few of the thousands of strong women across the region who are taking charge of their lives and integrating into their communities as rising leaders.