In 2014, Fatimata Touré received the International Women of Courage (IWOC) award by the U.S. Department of State. Ms. Touré has championed the rights of women and girls in Mali for over two decades. When extremists attacked a hospital in northern Mali, she assisted victims in relocating and finding much needed safety and care. As the conflict ensued, she also provided counseling and shelter for victims of rape and forced-marriage and publicly denounced perpetrators of gender-based violence. Even as her own home was attacked by extremists, Ms. Touré hid under her bed and used her mobile phone to continue documenting acts of violence against women. Her limitless courage ensured that survivors of gender-based violence received medical care and their stories of suffering were not forgotten during the conflict.
We caught up with Ms. Touré to reflect on her work since receiving the IWOC award seven years ago.
- In a perfect world, women and girls would:
Women and girls must enjoy all fundamental freedoms
- In three words, what does courage mean to you?
For me, courage means commitment, determination and conviction to make a change.
- What’s your favorite memory from the International Women of Courage Award ceremony and/or your time on the exchange program?
My favorite memory is when I hugged (now former) First Lady Michelle Obama.
- What other International Woman of Courage stands out to you from your time in the United States?
The woman who impressed me most is the judge of Guatemala who was the judge who tried the genocide of Guatemala.
- How did the International Women of Courage Award change your work?
The prize has completely changed my life. I am known throughout the world and it is because of the prize that my own country of Mali has discovered my work. I had a place at the negotiating table for the Peace and Reconciliation Agreement in Mali. I am also now a member of the organizing committee of the National Unity and Reconciliation Conference in Mali.
- What’s the secret to getting things done and making progress on the issues that matter to you?
My secret is my courage, commitment and determination. These give me inspiration. I am afraid of failure, poverty; injustice and discrimination.
- What do you think is the biggest barrier to progress in your work?
The illiteracy rate is high in my area and our struggle is not well understood. We are sometimes viewed as envoys of the West, who seek to upset the values and cultures.
- What’s the accomplishment you’re most proud of? Are there any projects you’ve worked on since the award?
I have worked hard on reconciliation, understanding and cohesion of society. The conflict in northern Mali has strained the understanding and cohesion of society. The achievement that I am most proud of is the International Woman of Courage award that I won. At the time of the extremist occupation in Mali, instead of fleeing like others, I worked to mobilize the international community around the situation of women sequestered and raped, with forced marriages and concubines, and so on.
As a result, some partners, such as UN Women, IntraHealth, UNFPA, and Norwegian Church Aid, helped me to establish the first Holistic Support Unit for Violence Based at Gao Hospital. With this unit, we have helped nearly one hundred women survivors rape, forced into marriages many with traumas.
- Who is your role model and why?
Former First Lady Michelle Obama, because she has a lot of presence.
- What should the next generation of women leaders know about leadership and courage? What can they do to continue your work?
The next generation must be more armed with courage and conviction, as things become more and more difficult with the rise of extremism.