The Gorge - Flash Bristow's Website
Cross-Cultural Communication from Mali
Girls' Migration in Mali

"This is a call to our daughters. You who left home for a walk, you who left to earn a little money, it is time for you to come back home. The storks are coming back for the rainy season." As if to confirm the Radio Mali broadcaster's words, a flock of storks started to fly in.

This message is a "welcome home" for all the young girls who have just spent the last 7 to 9 months working in the capital city, Bamako, and are returning home to their families in Bouadougou. Like brave warriors returning home after victory, the girls prepare to meet up with their families again. Among the girls, Ami was particularly eager to see her mother again. She had felt homesick since the day she left her village for Bamako, and clutched the photo of her mother a photographer had generously given her 7 months ago.

Finally, the girls reached Bouadougou. The welcome was greater than expected, and as if the Tabalé - the big drum used to transmit messages to remote villages - had been beaten, people were rushing towards them from every direction. Women from the village formed a circle around them and started singing, clapping and dancing, setting the tone for a feast that would last for the rest of the day.

In Mali, one in four children die before reaching the age of five; average annual income is little more than £500; and three quarters of the rural population live on less than 70p a day. As a result, many young people migrate to the cities in search of work and higher incomes. Traditionally, it was only young men who migrated to the big cities, doing unqualified jobs during the dry seasons, and using the money to buy food for the rainy seasion. However, over the past 20 years, more and more girls have been lured to the cities, ambitious to find husbands and earn respect within a society that has little opportunity or respect for unmarried young women.

The villagers, however, are usually ignorant of the hardships and traumas that girls often face during their time away from their homes. Most of them wash up, clean, pound millet or work as babysitters, and all for a very low salary. The luckiest are treated with the care that children of their age need and deserve in order to blossom. However many girls work far too hard for their age, and some are forced to work as prostitutes, becoming victims of sexually transmitted diseases or unwanted pregnancies.

Girls' migration has become a major issue throughout Mali. To help address the low economic status of women in rural areas, Plan Mali is running a series of integrated micro-enterprise and education programmes. These programmes allow women to borrow small amounts of money to help start their own small businesses, such as dressmaking or running shops. Plan provides low-interest loans, and teaches the women how to start such businesses, and how to save more of the money they earn. This helps and encourages them to plan and take control of their own futures. Furthermore, it has been proven that when women have more income available to them, they are more likely to spend the additional money on the welfare (particularly on health and education) of their children than men are.

In addition to this project, Plan Mali is also running broader programmes to aid awareness of child rights [the basic human rights of children have now been formally recognised in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and include such things as the right to an education, access to healthcare services, a registered birth or birth certificate, and security] especially those of girls, including showing families the importance of sending their daughters to school. All these programmes are being implemented to raise the status of young women and provide future opportunities for them to reach their potential.

One day, if Ami's younger sisters should decide to make the trip to Bamako, then hopefully they will do so out of curiosity rather than necessity.

Note: Children and their families do not just migrate to the cities to find work; there are a number of other reasons why your sponsored child may have moved away from their village. This may include moving to support other family members (especially grandparents), staying with extended family members if their own immediate family cannot look after them, or, particularly in the case of boys, staying with relatives or friends to learn trades or jobs, such as carpentry or masonry. Plan will always try to keep you informed of what is happening to the child you sponsor.

By writing a short note to the child you sponsor and their family, you can show that people of all ages and from all cultural and social backgrounds are working together with Plan to support generational change.

This page last updated: 19 July 2004

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