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People for Peace: From weaving recycled bags to preventing violence against women, Jeanne d’Arc believes in the power of one

Story by Yaye Nabo Séne and Gaëlle Sundelin

In 2019, when Jeanne d’Arc Kohou flew out to Mali to join the Un Peacekeeping mission MINUSMA, her role was to help prevent and address gender-based violence. But soon after she arrived, COVID-19 hit and she was unable to meet the communities and victims she sought to support. Instead, she took to teaching her colleagues how to make woven bags out of recycled materials, a skill she had learned back in her native Burkina Faso. As soon as the pandemic allowed for it, she expanded the training to women from the community, helping over 100 people learn the new skill, reduce waste,and most importantly, provide a much-needed source of income. Find out more about the impact of these colourful threads in her, and in the lives of women in Mali. 

“I actually learned how to weave to make and sell bags so I could support my family, because my salary was not enough. I was a victim of gender-based violence myself and I was left alone to provide for my children. In my case, justice was never served. My husband walked free like many men at the time in Burkina Faso and elsewhere in the world.

Today, I make it a point to ensure women know their rights and access justice and reparations. Through awareness-raising sessions and counselling, I help women report this violence, and demand justice. Too often, attention is diverted from the real victims and the blame falls on the women. In Haiti, for example, I've heard the men blame women's outfits, but in Gao, Mali, they are completely veiled, which serves to show what a fallacious argument that is. The responsibility must be shifted from the victims to the perpetrators; they are the ones responsible.

But we must also make sure that women are lifted out of poverty and dependency and that they can fend for themselves so that they are no longer afraid to report these crimes. By selling the woven bags I taught them to make, they can become more independent. MINUSMA works hard to provide a wide series of training opportunities to women, awareness-raising sessions and workshops to stop violence against women and support victims.

But these workshops are not, and should not, be limited to women. We talk a lot about sensitizing women, but it is also important to raise awareness among men, as they are the perpetrators. And it must start from an early age, with boys, to create equal generations and societies where it is clearly understood that gender-based violence is unacceptable. 

I will always remember conducting an awareness-raising session with young schoolboys in Gao and I could see that some of them were actually understanding and endorsing what I was explaining. It only takes one person to spread the word and create a ripple effect that, like a protective net, can help prevent gender-based violence. That is my hope for the future.”

More than one million peacekeepers have served for peace under the UN flag. They are ordinary people working to achieve peace in extraordinary conditions, and powered by strong and diverse partnerships. In this story series, People for Peace, meet some of our peacekeepers and partners.