Survivors of Violence in Mali Begin to Heal

A member of WILDAF conducting an interview
A member of Women in Law and Development in Africa/Mali conducts an interview.
Freedom House
Counseling gives expression to torment, freedom from stigma
“Thanks to the psychosocial sessions, I was able to externalize the pain that was hidden in me.”

November 2015—The citizens of Timbuktu, a region in northern Mali, experienced a large number of abuses during the country’s 2012 conflict, including rape and assault. Now victims of human rights abuses are attending psychosocial counseling as they move along the path to recovery.

For the past year, USAID, through Freedom House, has supported Women in Law and Development in Africa/Mali, a local civil society organization, to provide the counseling. Sessions allow victims to share their experiences and help break taboos associated with gender based violence (GBV).

M.D.*, a recent participant in a counseling session, reported being raped in July 2012 when she was 16 years old. She described being arrested by the Islamic police in Timbuktu for wearing inappropriate clothing and being imprisoned for three nights, during which she was raped. When she was released, she did not report the violations, even keeping the rape secret from her immediate family.

“After I was free, I became another person and each time I thought of what happened to me, I cried,” she said.

By participating in the psychosocial counseling sessions—designed for both victims and their families—M.D. began to process her victimization. It was the first time she said the name of her rapist out loud and the first time that she told her family. After sharing her story, M.D. experienced a transformation and reported that she no longer carries the stigma and burden of being a victim. With her newfound confidence, coupled with the support of her family who also participated in the training, she is now speaking about her experience with other victims of GBV and encouraging them to do the same.

“Thanks to the psychosocial sessions, I was able to externalize the pain that was hidden in me. For this I thank WILDAF [Women in Law and Development in Africa/Mali] and partners,” said M.D.  

The support that the counseling provides is crucial as victims often face a second victimization—having to confront the stigma and rejection resulting from their experience. To date, more than 93 victims of GBV in Timbuktu, including 19 victims under age 25, have shared and confronted their experiences, and moved beyond shame to begin the healing.

These efforts are part of USAID's Strengthening Human Rights Advocacy activity in Mali to help the government address human rights violations committed during the country's coup d’état and political crisis. The activity runs from December 2014 through February 2016.

*Name withheld to protect privacy.

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Last updated: November 18, 2015

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