Diakonia - People change the world
Hadi Mahamar and the Toya women’s collective in northern Mali has experienced both success and oppression in recent years. But despite the setbacks, they refuse to give up; the women will rise again. Photo: Karl Melander

Hadi Mahamar runs a women’s collective

Hadi Mahamar is a passionate change maker who is working courageously alongside others so that people living in poverty can gain power over their own lives.


Started village women’s collective

Hadi Mahamar, who has several children and is the family breadwinner, lives in the village of Toya, northern Mali. She is a member of Toya village council, one of the mayor’s closest advisors, and the initiator and leader of the village’s farming collective for women. Through her commitment and tenacity, she has been one of the prominent figures in the village for several years. She has helped create better living conditions for hundreds of poor families.

Each day a struggle

Hadi tells of how she has worked in agriculture for over 20 years, primarily with growing vegetables. Convinced that cooperation breeds success, she tried at an early stage to engage the other women in the village. Some of them grew vegetables just like Hadi, while others reared chickens or gathered firewood that they then sold at market.
“But each day was a struggle,” explains Hadi, and sweeps her hand over the dry, dusty landscape. “We worked in the fields from early morning to late in the evening. Our tools were inefficient and the water supply was a long way away.”

Welcome support from AMSS

Seven years ago, Hadi Mahamar came into contact with AMSS, one of Diakonia’s local partner organizations. They offered to support the operation financially and provide guidance. The women in the village welcomed this assistance. They received help in fencing in their allotments, digging wells right next to their land, and planting trees in a new project that, apart from providing the women with new sources of income, is also intended to prevent desertification.
“Out of the approximately 500 women in Toya, half are now employed in the collective and thus help ensure not only that their families have food on the table but also that their children can go to school,” says Hadi Mahamar.

Toya hard hit by coup d'état

But in April 2012, everything changed. Islamist groups drove out the Malian army from the northern parts of the country. They besieged the major cities of Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu and introduced sharia law in the region. Toya was also affected. The women in the village were forbidden to work in the fields, they were not permitted to leave the house without being accompanied by a man, and the schools were closed.
Hadi Mahamar shudders at her recollections. “Even if the Islamists have gone, there are still traces of the devastation they caused,” she says. We follow her along the edge of a plot of land the size of two football pitches.
“Just over a year ago, it was all green here,” she says, sweeping her hand over the dry, brown earth.

Women who refuse to give up

For Hadi Mahamar and the other women in the farming collective, it’s a question of starting from scratch. Despite the setbacks, they refuse to give up. Hadi is convinced that Toya, thanks to the strength of its women, will rise again.
“The women of Mali are strong. We’re going to show the world that we don’t yield to anyone or anything – not to climate change, and not to the Islamist rebels with their misogynous sharia laws.”