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article imageAbdoulaye Toure: A life dedicated to women’s empowerment Special

By Raluca Besliu     Feb 12, 2016 in World
In early childhood, Abdoulaye Toure from Mali took his first stance against injustice towards women. When he was about six years old, he realized it was unfair for his mother to be responsible for all the household work.
She would wake up at 5 a.m., work alongside his father in the field and continue work into the late hours of the night. Mr. Toure decided to help her. He would fetch water and assist her with the cooking and cleaning. At first, his mother protested, because she was so used to these being the sole responsibilities of women. Eventually she came to appreciate her son’s help. His father, however, remained angry, even telling his son that he would not amount to much in life. In his community, Mr. Toure was not perceived as a normal boy, because of his interest in female household chores. His father and the community’s position made him realize not only the importance of empowering women, but also that convincing men of it and involving them directly in the process would be essential to bringing substantial and lasting social change. He made it his life-long goal to work toward achieving both.
Over the years, Mr. Toure has proven his father wrong and made his mother proud. He now works as the Director of Women for Women International (WfWI) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). He has gained over 20 years of experience working on women’s issues, having previously worked as the Assistant Country Director for CARE International, focusing on women’s rights and inequality, and as an Administrator at the International Red Cross in Mali.
WfWI supports women in eight conflict-affected countries around the world in gaining life-changing skills to achieve economic self-sufficiency and stability. Since it was founded in 1993, the agency has helped over 429,000 marginalized women.
Having started working with the agency just last year, Mr. Toure is currently focusing on further developing WfWI’s two main programs in DRC. This Central African country was ravaged by violent conflict between 1996 and 2002 and has seen rape and gender violence be used as a weapon of war against women and girls on a widespread scale. Even though peace agreements between Rwanda and the DRC were reached in 2002, giving the country more stability, persistent gender imbalance continues in all domains, from the socio-economic to the political and cultural. Women themselves are trying to figure out their current place and roles in a society, which had severely abused them in the recent past.
The first WfWI initiative that Mr. Toure is helping implement focuses on providing training for women to acquire skills that could make them financially independent. This is achieved through a year-long program that takes part in eastern Congo’s North and South Kivu provinces. These provinces remain highly unstable with clashes between the Congolese army and rebel groups reoccurring periodically, with the most recent fighting taking place in 2015.
This volatile context makes the WfWI’s program for women all the more vital. The initiative combines skills acquisition with health information, rights education, decision-making and civic participation, which can help women make healthy decisions and build networks to advocate for their rights. According to WfWI’s statistics, the women entering their programs on average care for four children and have a daily income of $0.76 percent at enrollment. Moreover, 54, percent have no formal education.
The women are divided into smaller groups of around 25 and meet bi-weekly. Since 2004, over 84,000 women have taken part in the trainings. As a result, some of the women have developed their own small businesses, such as soap-making enterprises, while others have acquired new agricultural technics and have learned how to legally gain access to land.
The second WfWI program focuses on engaging men to change their attitudes on women’s role in society. It trains religious, political, military and community leaders on the key importance of women’s socio-economic engagement and rights. They subsequently have a key impact on the other men in their communities’ perception of and behavior towards women. These leaders have also started encouraging women to come and speak at their meetings about the issues that they are facing and have shunned from the community gatherings men, who disrespect or abuse women. Being excluded from these conversation means diminishing one’s worthiness in the community, a risk, which most men would prefer to avoid.
Mr. Toure is proud of these projects' current accomplishments. In terms of upcoming goals, he hopes to further expand both initiatives to other parts of the country, in order to reach more women and men. He realistically stresses that even reducing, not fully eradicating, inequality and discrimination against women will be extremely difficult and take a long time. He, however, does not let that realization stand in his way. He continues to fight for his childhood goals.
More about Mali, Democratic republic congo, Women's rights, women's empowerment
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