Beatings, insults and harassment are part of everyday life for trans people in Mali. Baba (not her real name) recalls: “When my relatives found out I was a trans woman, they waited for me at the front door. As soon as I arrived, the whole family, but especially my older brother, started insulting and hitting me. Between screams and sobs, I tried to explain to them what was happening to me, but my uncle suddenly stopped me and told my father that the only way not to embarrass the family was to kill me now.
Faced with this kind of humiliation and physical aggression, trans people tend to stray far from their homes, especially if they live in rural areas to get to the big cities. “When I left Kayes I was terrified of leaving my family and roots there, but at the same time I felt a great relief because I knew that in Bamako no one would know me and I could be myself, be the person who I really wanted to be,” says Baba.
Her journey began one afternoon when, accompanied by a cousin, she took a bus to cover the more than 500 kilometers that separate the two cities. Arriving in the capital, he was confronted with the harsh reality: “When I arrived in Bamako, I had no one to turn to or lean on to look for a job or find a safe place to sleep . I was then a young girl with little experience. In addition, I have been an easy target for harassment and arbitrary arrests by the police, and on many occasions I have suffered all kinds of harassment.”
In Mali, trans people often face violations of their human rights and conditions of insecurity and violence by both the state apparatus and other civil society actors. Government agencies go to great lengths to prosecute and punish transgender people, resulting in their failure to report these abusive practices for fear of possible reprisals.
Government agencies strive to prosecute and punish trans people, which means these people do not report these abusive practices for fear of possible reprisals
Corresponding AREFM association (Association Référence Mali), defender of the rights of trans people in Mali, these acts of violence are just the tip of the iceberg of a progressive deterioration in the quality of life of those affected, which is increasingly being pointed out by a growing transphobic rhetoric of heteronormative Malian society, ever closer to radical Islamist postulates.
From an intercultural point of view, showing a different gender identity implies a significant stigmatization on a societal level. “When I was looking for a job, the employers didn’t want to talk to me and always told me to come back another time,” says Baba. “They didn’t want someone that wimpy to work with them,” he muses. The state, religious leaders and civil society assume their virtual invisibility, which suggests that there are no laws against their discrimination in the penal code, much less that measures are taken to protect them from the abuses they are subjected to . .
Transphobia is present at all levels of society but severely affects young people who, due to lack of resources and social exclusion, are forced into sex work as a last resort. “Sometimes I get some money when I meet someone, but I’m very embarrassed because I don’t feel good about it,” Baba admits.
The state, religious leaders and civil society de facto assume their invisibility, which suggests that there are no laws against their discrimination in the penal code
Since his arrival in Bamako, Baba has not spoken to his father or most of his brothers, and many nights he has gone to bed without eating a bite. She has been relegated to a life she previously could not have imagined, a life where she is invisible and where her dream of being a confident woman is confused with a reality that suffocates her.
Denouncing this often-ignored reality is a fundamental step towards achieving more just and inclusive societies, where gender expression is respected and the rights of LGTBIQ+ people are equally guaranteed.