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On March 4, First Lady Michelle Obama bestowed one of ten International Women of Courage Awards to Fatimata Touré for her courageous fight against gender-based violence during the brutal occupation of Gao, Mali, in 2012 and 2013. Touré was nominated for the honor by IntraHealth International’s country director for Mali, Dr. Cheick Touré (no relation).
The annual award is conferred by the US Department of State to honor women around the globe who “have exemplified exceptional courage and leadership in advocating for human rights, women’s equality, and social progress, often at great personal risk.”
Fatimata Touré is head of the Women’s Action, Research, Study, and Training Group (GREFFA), a local partner of IntraHealth in Mali. She is also the current leader of the Regional Forum on Reconciliation and Peace in Gao.
When Gao was attacked in 2012, extremist rebels took over the local hospital and turned many clients—including 20 women recovering from obstetric fistula repair surgeries provided through IntraHealth’s Fistula Care project—out of their hospital beds and onto the streets. Touré helped find these women, and made sure they found shelter and care.
As the conflict continued, Touré counseled and sheltered victims of rape and forced-marriage, and at great personal risk, spoke out publicly against the perpetrators. Rebels threatened her, robbed her at gunpoint, and broke into her home. She hid under her bed and continued to document the acts of violence using her mobile phone, determined to make sure the abuse victims suffered would not be ignored or forgotten.
Dr. Cheick Touré says he immediately thought of her when he read the description of the International Women of Courage Award.
“Fatimata is courageous and tenacious,” Dr. Touré says. “The strength she summoned to protect and support women during the violence in Mali was remarkable. Women are alive today because of her, and she gave so many women in hopeless situations the courage to move forward. When Fatimata learned that she was going to receive this award from Michelle Obama, it took a while for the reality to sink in. She told me that she knew that her life was about to change.”
First Lady Obama said during the ceremony, “I always walk away feeling inspired by these women, determined to reflect their courage in my own life. And I know I’m not alone in that feeling because every day, with every life they touch and every spirit they raise, these women are creating ripples that stretch across the globe.”
GREFFA is a non-governmental organization based in Gao that fosters women’s involvement in social, economic, political, and professional life in Mali by promoting their participation in development research, training, information, and action. The organization works in women’s advocacy, governance, education, food security, and health. IntraHealth collaborates with GREFFA on its fistula care work in northern Mali.
Fatimata Touré will visit IntraHealth’s Chapel Hill, North Carolina, offices later this month.