Conducting an assessment project for UNMAS in Mali, GMAP had the opportunity to meet with Brigadier General Coulibaly Kani Diabaté, the first woman to hold such position in the Malian army. General Coulibaly, as she is known, is the head of the National Commission to Fight Proliferation of Small Arms and Light Weapons. Considering the current situation in Mali, she has an intense task ahead. Enthusiastic, passionate and vocal, this advocate for gender equality told us about her challenges and achievements in a male-dominated environment, and how her advocacy work has brought her to spread the word in other countries where inequality linked to gender prevails.
Insisting that gender is a social construct, General Coulibaly believes that we can only achieve equality in society by reaching out to those that are directly impacted by the existing inequalities: women. According to her, the most challenging obstacle in a male-dominated work place is the fact that working women have to convince people both that their presence is important, and that their presence is directly related to their competence. Proud that her respect and position were earned through merit, she believes that hard work and competence lay the foundations for great achievements. This can be showcased by over 40 years of service, in which she has remarkable accomplishments—not only as a brigadier general, but also as a doctor and a maxillofacial surgeon.
As a trailblazer, she has paved the way to future generations of women in the Malian army. Her work in support of the professional advancement of other women within the army has made her a symbol of national pride. In addition, her advocacy work has propelled consultancy and research projects such as the gender implication in peace operations, gender and conflict, and the relevance of the gender component in peace processes, which has been influential not only in Mali but also in Liberia and Sierra Leone.
The lesson we have learnt from General Coulibaly is that a new, rising generation of women must become proactive policy and decision-makers, integral to the process of security development in Africa. Such proactivity must be taken by women at all levels: from their individual households to the highest ranks, while reinforcing the ideas of peace and dialogue. She believes that “even if it’s hard to change the habits of a society, we must acknowledge that we complete each other, and that’s reason enough for having men and women at the same level.”