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Death of Mali President's Receptionist Sparks Domestic Violence Talk

Fanta Sekou Fofana (Facebook)
Fanta Sekou Fofana (Facebook)

The suspected murder of a Malian government employee at the hands of her husband is sparking a dialogue about domestic violence in the West African country.

On December 29, police found the body of Fanta Sekou Fofana, a 27-year-old receptionist in the office of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and the daughter of a presidential adviser.

Police suspect her husband, also an employee in the president's office, was responsible. The exact circumstances of her death, including the cause, remain unclear.

Nevertheless, advocacy groups have organized events, including a rally in Bamako on January 2 attended by 150 people, many of whom voiced outrage. On January 6, protesters marched outside the parliament building, but they were barred from approaching the building by security forces, an activist told VOA's Bambara service.

Diakate Kadidia Fofana, president of Amazones, a group fighting violence against women, said the country needs laws with harsher punishments for domestic abusers.

"No one can speak on our behalf besides our elected officials who are in charge of voting for our laws. That is why we went before the parliament," she told VOA. "We are calling on all women to stand up and help us because this is a fight for all of us."

Domestic violence in Mali is widespread, but rarely reported or prosecuted. According to Mali's Ministry of Public Health, 35 percent of Malian women 15 and older have been victims of physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner.

A 2016 human rights report by the U.S. Embassy in Mali found that assault is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a monetary fine, but many women do not report abuse fearing divorce, social stigma or a lost job for their husbands.

Many in Mali hope the death of Fofana will finally bring about real change.

"We are here to denounce violence against women. We are here to make pleas for the Malian authorities to enforce the law, or something, so this really stops," Traore Coumba Bah, a cousin of Fofana, told Radio France Internationale. "We say it must really stop because Fanta was really one victim too many."

Cultural issues

Part of the problem is cultural. According to a study published by The Guardian, 60 percent of women in Mali without formal education believe that a husband is justified in beating his wife if she doesn't obey him. That percentage drops as women reach higher levels of education.

During "A Votre Avis," a call-in show with VOA's French to Africa service, callers from the region expressed a wide variety of opinions, with most expressing outrage, but some saying the problem is overblown.

One caller, Hakim from Bamako, said he knew the victim personally and called for action.

"I find the conditions of her death shameful and deplorable," he said. "I find it very unfortunate that there are savages, excuse the term, who marry our sisters, our mothers, our daughters, only to take their lives in this manner."

VOA's Kassim Traore, Bagassi Koura and Ekia Badou contributed to this report.