Examining Gender Equality in Mali on International Women’s Day

Komba Dumbia, 58, stands with her granddaughters in Mali, holding a board that reads "thank you for bringing the light."

Komba Dumbia, 58, stands with her granddaughters in Mali, holding a board that reads “thank you for bringing the light.”

Gender inequality remains a problem in developing countries as women are denied civil liberties and the tools to free themselves from poverty.

Two out of three illiterate people are women. Without an education, many women cannot support themselves and they marry young. Consequently, a quarter to up to half of girls in developing countries become mothers before their 18th birthdays, and many deny themselves meals so they can feed their children. The problems seem unending.

But there is hope. buildOn is empowering women in developing countries by making them part of the change that will free themselves and their children from poverty. Before breaking ground on schools, buildOn has villagers sign a covenant that ensures women are a part of the school’s Leadership Committee, and that at least fifty percent of the students attending the school are girls.

Korotoumou Samake, 8, is attending a buildOn school in Bladie, Mali. "Without this school, maybe none of us would get an education.”Korotoumou Samake, 8, is one of 54 students attending first grade this year at a buildOn school in the village of Bladie, Mali. Before the school was built in early 2011, Korotoumou stayed at home. Her siblings walked up to 10 miles to get to the nearest school, only to sit through class on an empty stomach. Her parents suffered, worrying about their safety every time it was windy and rainy.

Apart from living in the “darkness” of illiteracy, Korotoumou says her biggest fear is marrying early. Most women in her village marry between the ages of 14 and 16, which is not uncommon considering one in seven women in developing countries get married before the age of 15. However, Korotoumou won’t be a statistic if she stays in school for seven years or longer; she’ll get married four years later than average and have two fewer children.

Her goal is to one day become educated so she can become a teacher. She wants to improve her life, support her parents and help her community. And she’ll be able to because each additional year of primary school will add 10 percent to her future earnings. Korotoumou’s family told her that with education, Bladie will become more developed and the farmers in the village will learn how to harvest more crops to feed the population.

Korotoumou told buildOn that she is happy and feels lucky to have escaped the hardships of her siblings. “We go to school right here and can go home and eat, even at break-time. Without this school, maybe none of us would get an education.”

On International Women’s Day, consider that 116 million women around the world are without an education. They need a chance to learn basic reading and math skills to lift themselves out of poverty, taking them out of the darkness and into the light. Learn how you can make a difference today by breaking the cycle of poverty, illiteracy and low expectations. Be a part of the change and partner with buildOn!

Interview with Korotoumou Samake by Alhousseyni Maiga, buildOn Mali Country Director