As Mali pursues peace talks and also prepares for war, Malian women insist they should be at the table for both. They argue women are the primary victims of rebel and terrorist groups occupying the north.
Mariam Cisse sits on a wooden bench with her arm wrapped in a sling, her sad eyes cast downward and her voice low. She's wracked with guilt over leaving her five children behind with relatives in the desert town of Timbuktu, occupied by al-Qaeda linked militants, while she sought medical treatment in the country's southern capital, Bamako. "I could not bring them, I am sick," she repeated several times, rocking back and forth. She is too scared to go back.
In April, an armed gang of Tuareg separatist rebels and a radical Islamist faction invaded Cisse's hometown of Timbuktu. The Malian army threw down their weapons and abandoned their posts, leaving the rebels in control. When Cisse tried to run, she fell and dislocated her shoulder."[The rebels] destroyed all of our houses, the hospitals ... The rebels have kidnapping women and taking them outside the town for days raping them and leaving them sick."
The Tuareg-led rebellion was then hijacked by hardliner Islamist groups with links to al Qaeda, including al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), a splinter group called the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJOA) and the Malian-based Ansar Dine. According to the United Nations, the human rights violations became "more systemic" and include an extreme version of Sharia law with women as the primary victims. They have been forced to wear veils and banned from working, shopping in the market, and accessing education and other social services.
There have been public executions, amputations, stonings and floggings. "There was nobody there to fight them," said Cisse.