The Association pour le Progres et la Defense des Droits des Femmes
Maliennes (APDF) was founded in 1991. We work on the protection and the defense of the
rights of women. We work against the violence done to women and girls and especially on
genital mutilation of girls. We think that prostitution is one of the forms of violence
done to women and girls, even though we dont work directly or only with
Prostitution is qualified, as it is everywhere, as the oldest job in the world.
Its also called the commerce of sex. In Mali its called maki. The main
reason women and girls go into prostitution is economic. The girls and women that fall
into prostitution come from an economic background that is deprived. They come from
families that have many children, where there are economic problems and a constant fight
for survival. They belong to families with an absent father, and in which the burden of
financial responsibility rests solely with the mother. There are girls who come from
families in which a member of the family has a physical handicap. Also, there are women
and girls from families who are forced to beg in order to survive. The personal economic
problems of these girls and women have led them into prostitution. There is one woman who
was in prostitution in Mali and one of the frontier countries, as an alternative to a
lifestyle which was more trying. She said, "If I hadnt fallen into prostitution
I would have become crazy."
The other problem that has led women into prostitution is structural adjustment
programs, which have created a new kind of poverty. These programs have led to people
being dislocated from their homes. But there are also affective reasons, emotional
reasons. Some girls have fallen into prostitution because of disappointment in their love
lives. There is one woman who said, "I am a prostitute for pure pleasure. My husband
doesnt know it because he doesnt come from this area." Further, there are
materialistic reasons that induce girls and women into prostitution. There are some girls
and women who enter prostitution simply to have money to be fashionable. These girls, at a
certain point in their lives, choose prostitution on their own. In these cases they are
usually educated girls.
In Mali, prostitutes are typically between 14 and 40 years old. They are both educated
and uneducated. They are adolescents and adults. They are single and married. Some are
called professional prostitutes even though they dont like that term. Some are
called occasional prostitutes because they have been forced into prostitution, or they
have ended up there not by choice. Prostitutes work in hotels, restaurants, and brothels.
They also work under trees in the street. Those that work under the trees in the street
are the ones who are most exposed to and at the greatest risk of being victims of
violence. Very often they are beaten, and not paid. When they are paid, the money is often
taken away from them. Very often these women in prostitution are under the control of
pimps, who are men and women. Regardless of the circumstances, these girls and women in
prostitution are usually very exploited.
Mali is a country where culture and religion are very strong. We also have very strong
community life. These influences in Mali society create a poor view of girls and women who
are prostitutes. One girl said, "I dont think any girl does prostitution out of
the happiness of her heart." In other words, even when they are aware of community
views, girls and women who end up in prostitution often feel they have no other choice.
Girls and women who enter prostitution usually change their names and move to another part
of the community in which they live. The society is not forgiving and does not help women
who are in prostitution. The society does not criticize the men who buy the women, they
simply attack the women, which means that girls and women in prostitution are very
vulnerable. Often, these women have been thrown out by their families who judge them
harshly, and society judges them harshly as well. The government has no policies on
prostitution, it pretends there is no prostitution. The government closes its eyes even
though weve published so many documents to make prostitution visible. If a
prostitute gets pregnant, the father refuses to recognize the child on the basis that they
werent the only ones to have had sex with the woman. This creates another problem,
for the woman who is pregnant, as well as for the child who is going to be born.
When action in taken in Mali, it does not benefit or help the girls and women in
prostitution. Often, when the police find and arrest prostitutes, they are taken back to
the police station, locked up and abused. We work with girls who are arrested and in
prison. We have started a center to help these women, so they can learn how to sew so that
when they get out they can have marketable skills.
There is also the National Program to Fight Against AIDS, which works with girls and
women who are in prostitution. The program drops off condoms in bars and hotels where
there is prostitution. This is done with no charge to the prostitutes. The women are
careful about safe sex. One girl said, "I never have sex with a client without using
a condom, and if he refuses I make him leave." There is a big campaign to educate
girls about AIDS. Prostitutes do have medical care, but are required to record their
health status in a book that is a public record.
In conjunction with prostitution, the sex industry is proliferating through
pornographic movies. There are posters on the streets depicting women in unbelievable
positions. We take action in an attempt to change this. My NGO has written letters to the
government, has spoken to Ministers, and contacted the press about these posters, to no
avail. We believe that because none of these groups do anything about the posters, they
have an interest in the pornography. Weve asked to become part of the National
Committee on Censorship. Every time there is a new minister, we ask him if we can become
part of the Censorship Committee. We work with groups of young Moslems on this issue.
Recently, the director of a girls high school called me saying that we have to try
again to fight against pornography. Every time we start our fight, the posters are taken
down, but every time we let up they go back up again. So our energy and time is spent
working and doing, but the government does not aid us.
We need to put a lot of pressure on the government to respect women, specifically on
the police and the Ministry of Justice. Eighty percent of the girls in prostitution come
from the rural areas. After coming to the city and being disappointed, they enter
prostitution and refuse to go back to the countryside. Weve seen more and more that
girls and women who are in prostitution are also involved in drugs. At some point they get
pregnant and decide to abort or commit infanticide. And then they end up in jail. Their
parents arent aware of what is going on, and they can end up in jail for years and
years with no one following their case and without being judged in court.
We are putting pressure on the government so that there will be legal action against
pimps and the brothel owners. Prostitution is violence against women and a violation of
human rights. Therefore, we dont think that the issue of prostitution should be
looked at as an issue of money. Direct action has to be taken to help families, especially
poor families, to help save their daughters from prostitution. The government has to
become engaged and we want to be a part of it. The NGOs have a big responsibility,
especially the ones that work for the rights of women. We have to be careful not to
further victimize the prostitutes and make them feel guilty. Rather, we have to help them
get out, and empower them. Our country has ratified the Convention Against Slavery.
Prostitution is a form of slavery and must be recognized as such.
I think of my granddaughter. I think about what exists for her in this world where
violence is the rule. In Mali, we dont talk about prostitution, and the day we do
start talking about it we will find out its too late. Thats why its
important to organize now to fight prostitution in Mali.