"Before COVID-19, I was free to do what I wanted to do, I went about my business and didn't have to worry about what tomorrow will bring," says Maman. The consequences of the coronavirus pandemics on Mali are many and varied, including the closing of schools, workplaces and markets. Although the curfew imposed last March has recently been lifted to the delight of all; the need to respect the barrier measures remains.
Girls are facing an increased risk during the school closures, with many dropping out to get married. Others are leaving their rural communities in search of an income to help their mothers and families who have lost their livelihoods, provide for their families, exposing them to abuse and sexual exploitation.
23-year-old Maman is a young activist and peer educator with the Youth Empowerment in West Africa (YEWA) project. A sociology student, she fights gender-based violence, promotes gender equality and female leadership alongside Plan International in Mali.
"Since the announcement of the pandemic, we are in semi-confinement despite the lifting of the curfew by the authorities; I feel safer inside, I’m afraid, and I am no longer free. My main occupation is limited to cooking and housework. Despite this, our activities have to continue, so I have to reconcile these two aspects," says Maman.
Currently in Mali, 20,600 schools are closed, making children and young people extremely vulnerable. As part of our COVID-19 response plan, Maman and her peer educators have received training on the pandemic, including prevention methods, to ensure that young people, especially girls in the communities, have correct information on COVID-19 as soon as possible, in an accessible language and format, so that they can manage their safety.
Maman conducts awareness raising and information activities in her community on the pandemic, facilitating interactive talks and discussion sessions with children and young people to ensure they have the right information and know how to protect themselves.
"Even though COVID-19 threatens us daily, I can't stop my fight. It's true that it's not like before, there are measures that must be respected, but I have a duty to my peers, I must do everything I can to stop this virus," explains Maman.
Following training in online activism in December 2019 by Plan International, Maman now has a good understanding of how to use the internet as a tool for change and engagement. Her favourite platforms are WhatsApp and Facebook. "I invite everyone to do small awareness campaigns to explain the barriers and encourage respect for them,” Maman says.
In an effort to ensure that girls' voices are heard in our response work, Plan International Mali conducted a Gender Rapid Report to understand how COVID-19 is affecting girls and young women and highlight the gender and intersectional impacts of the coronavirus crisis.