Source: Norwegian Refugee Council
By Ingvild Vetrhus
In Mali, women without identity cards are particularly susceptible to harassment – and are often left with no legal rights in their home country.
“Without the ID card, I can’t go to school. I can’t even vote,” says 27 year old Fatouma.
She wants to open her own shop. A simple ID card is all that stands in her way.
An ambitious woman
Fatouma has not been able to walk since she was diagnosed with polio at the age of three. For decades she has been bound to her three-wheel bicycle to move around on her own. Nevertheless, she is determined to start her own business.
She is one of several thousand Malians without legal identity documents. Many lost their papers while fleeing the radical groups that ravaged northern Mali in 2012. Since then, 350,000 people have been displaced within the country
A community of violence and harassment
The police are known for threatening unjust fines or demanding bribes from those who fail to produce identification papers. The one-dollar penalties are usually too expensive for women, who often have no money.
Fatouma, who has never held a birth certificate or an ID card, is one of many paperless women who feel unsafe when going to the market for errands.
“If I get ID documents, I will be happy,” she says. “I will be able to go everywhere without getting in trouble.”
Applying for new documentation is a long and draining process. It has been hard for Fatouma to support herself and her family without a job. As long as she lacks documentation confirming her identity, she has limited rights in her home country.
Fatouma uses her hands to turn the pedals on her bicycle, which have replaced the handlebars. That’s how she gets around the Walirde village, where she currently lives. The village, which is located just outside the city of Mopti, is one of several host communities providing shelter for the country’s internally displaced people. Fatouma lives in a building with 20 other people. There is no electricity.
Her dream is to open her own mobile salt shop, where she can wrap the good into bags and sell them from her bicycle. She hopes that one day she will have the means to make that first purchase of supplies.
“If I got the ID card, I would be a good trader,” she says. But she is not eligible to apply for seed money without identity documents.
A bright future
The Norwegian Refugee Council’s (NRC) legal teams are working to secure the rights of refugees. Through free legal counselling, displaced people can enrol their children in school, open bank accounts, and gain the right to shelter.
In 2016, NRC helped 36,000 people with their missing ID documents. Among them were 19,500 women.
Fatouma is one of many hopefuls who will finally receive the documents she has been waiting for. A birth certificate and ID card will make it possible for her to benefit from public services like education and medical care, in addition to achieving her entrepreneurial ambitions.
Thrilled to finally be able to apply for a microloan that can make her business a reality, Fatouma plans the backbone of her strategy – hard work and long hours.
She hopes that she one day will become a successful businessperson.
“I can be a true Malian,” she declares.