March 8, 2012 marked the annual recognition of International Women’s Day around the world, and Malians in my community celebrated together in a small village nearby.  I wasn’t able to attend the ceremony last year, because the high school girl’s soccer match was held on the same day (see March 8 post from last year), but this year, I was able to do both!

The celebration started around 10 am with speeches from some of the most prominent people in the area around my site, including the mayor several representatives of women’s associations in my town.  They certainly know how to talk the talk. 

Both men and women alike were touting the benefits of schooling girls and bringing more gender equality to the community.  In an election year in Mali, they were prompted to talk about the potential for female politicians to take seats in local government, parliament and to even serve as president (giving a nod to Liberian president and recent Nobel Prize winner, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf).

Certainly this was all music to my ears, but I struggled with the fact that although they talk the talk, I don’t see people in my community walking the walk.  Boys outnumber girls in the local high school 5-1; girls are obligated to marry, according to their parent’s wishes, at an early age; the opinions of men are valued more than those of women; and women are still expected to stay at home and take care of children and housework.  If you haven’t yet read it, you should check out my post “On Women in Mali”.  It discusses the status of women Mali, in depth, and proves that they certainly are fighting an uphill battle for equality.

Despite my reservations about superficiality of the celebration, I enjoy the festivities.  Malians love a reason to eat, listen to music and dance and that’s exactly what we did!  Following the speeches, several traditional musicians took to the dirt enclosed by a large crowd of Malian men, women and children.  They played and sang and the area around them became a dance floor for women decked out in Women’s Day fabric with babies tied to their backs.

After about an hour of music and dancing, the local women put on a couple of skits with a gender equality message. Then, the food was ready and the whole community gathered around communal bowls to eat zame, a fried rice dish that is always served at large celebrations.  It was delicious.

Spending the morning and early afternoon at the neighboring village made me really tired and I decided to spend the late afternoon relaxing and enjoying International Women’s Day with a good book.

Although the girls soccer game didn’t happen on March 8, it did take place on Saturday, the 10th.  The time change allowed people to enjoy both the women’s day celebration on Thursday and the game – which gave us a larger audience for the match!

Last year, I played with the 10th and 11th graders, but this year I played with the 12th graders.  So, half of my former teammates were on my team this year and half of them became the competition!  We practiced for a couple of weeks before the big day, and I thought that the girls on my team seemed to be really good – especially because they’ve never had formal training.

The day before the match, the coach of the 10th and 11th grade team suggested that we give them two of our players to even the playing field, but my team would not budge.  The rivalry between high school girls in different grades must translate – I remember equally competitive powder puff football games taking place at Bourbon County High School!

On the day of the big game, I met up with my team to make and package flavored drinks to be served after the game – essentially kool-aid, with TONS of extra sugar.  I forgot to bring my camera, which was a big disappointment for the girls, but we had a good time anyway.

In the afternoon, we met 45 minutes before the game to get warmed-up and hangout a bit before the game started.  Before the game, a representative from the local women’s association spoke to the girls and kicked the game ball (much like throwing the first pitch at a baseball game) to get things started under the hot afternoon sun.

Within the first 10 minutes my team scored the one and only goal of the match!  Afterwards, the play was back and forth down the field, but we weren’t able to put the icing on the cake with a second goal.  We had quite a crowd for the match, and everyone seemed to be enjoying the game.  This made me realize how great it would have been to have started, or tried to start, a girls soccer team during my service.  Perhaps the next volunteer that comes to my site will be able to do so… 

Overall, my last International Women’s Day celebration in Mali was really fun and allowed me to stand together, or dance together at least, in unity with my Malian sisters.  I’m sure that next March 8 I will be thinking about these celebrations and wishing that I could country-hop just for one day to share in the festivities.

Check out the photos that I took at the celebration and the soccer game here.