UN Peacekeeping recently interviewed Mama Koite, a women’s rights activist, and advocate for the rights of survivors of sexual violence. As we mark the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence, learn more about her arduous yet essential work and what keeps her going.
“30 years,” she says with a heavy sigh, “I have been doing this for 30 years,” before quickly adding with a smile that illuminates her face, “and I don’t regret any of it.”
Mama Koite has dedicated her life to fighting for human rights. Starting as a union worker in her home country of Mali, she decided to specialize in defending women, and particularly survivors of sexual violence in conflict.
“[Because I am a woman], I was discriminated against at home, in the workplace, in my own society and decided that enough is enough,” the activist told us on the sidelines of a high-level Peacekeeping and Humanitarian Leadership Dialogue held in New York City to mark the 22nd anniversary of UN Security Council resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security.
For 30 years, Mama Koite has traveled across the African continent — and the world — advocating for survivors’ rights to justice and reparations. Conflict-related Sexual Violence is frequently used as a tactic of war and terror. It may take the form of rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution, forced pregnancy, and other grave crimes. Since 2000, the UN Security Council has adopted 10 resolutions on Women, Peace and Security. They highlight the link between sexual violence, gender equality, and the restoration of peace and security. Violence against women and girls puts international peace and security at risk.
Ensuring victims’ access to justice and supporting human rights advocates like Koite who fight for them, is at the heart of UN Peacekeeping’s work. Today, four peacekeeping missions have a specific Security Council mandate to address CRSV: MINUSCA in the Central African Republic, MINUSMA in Mali, MONUSCO in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, UNMISS in South Sudan. All United Nations field missions work to prevent and respond to conflict-related sexual violence.
From the Central African Republic to Mali and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Koite has heard from victims firsthand, listening to testimonies that leave one wondering how she can go on.
“I have seen and heard horrible [things]. I have cried a lot, I sometimes have nightmares (…) but I have helped a lot of survivors and I want to continue supporting them,” she said while calling on Member States for more financial support to projects assisting survivors.
From 2015 to December 2021, Mama Koite had a chance to expand the scope of her critical work when she was elected — twice — to the Trust Fund for Victims of the International Criminal Court.
“I was in charge of overseeing reparations for victims and that requires a holistic approach: psychological, physical and material. We went from implementing six programmes to assist survivors to 26 [globally] by the time I left (…) but there’s still a lot of work to do,” Koite said, highlighting the excellent work carried out by many organizations on the ground.
“My vision today is to work with youth. I’m mentoring and coaching a lot of youngsters. It’s our duty to prepare them to take on the work, otherwise everything we have done so far will go to waste,” she added.