Interview by Visual Collaborative
May 2019 5 min read
Fatima Al Ansar is Head of Mission at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation in Mali, founder of Tilwalte Girls Peace Network and a 2017 Oxford Consortium on Human Rights Fellow. As a special feature in our Voyager issue, Al Ansar speaks on her work in politics and advocacy of women on the African continent.
(VC) The conflict in Mali has been disruptive and displaced many in the area. As a woman who founded Tilwalte Girls Peace Network, what has been your thoughts on the education of young girls during these times?
(Fatima) Education of young girls in time of conflict is very challenging for so many reasons. When Malala Yousafzai told the United Nations, “The extremists are afraid of books and pens, the power of education frightens them. They are afraid of women,” she was right. Extremists know that educated girls know how to speak out. They learn to fight back and become unstoppable.
To build our nations, our continent and our world, we need to build up our girls, give them all the resources they need to be successful and thriving citizens.
And when you see a girl with a book, you know that she will be changed, not only her, but her family and her nation. So, if you want to destroy a nation, destroy its girls. To build our nations, our continent and our world, we need to build up our girls, give them all the resources they need to be successful and thriving citizens. Currently in so many war-torn countries unfortunately young girls are weaponized. Much work needs to be done to support girls in conflict and war zones areas to give them access to their right of safe education.
(VC) Within the last year you started working at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs joining the ranks of few women in politics in Francophone Africa. Do you feel any pressure?
(Fatima) Not necessarily but I do feel like I had to work harder and to prove that women and young people have the potential to handle leadership position. In so many of our meetings. I find myself being the only female and the youngest in the room. I think twice before I share any opinion, whatever I say has to sound perfect and meaningful. I am representing the women and the younger generation if I mess up, I will demolish the chances for other young women. On the other hand, the pressure is not all bad. It forces me to work harder in order to make sure that the voices of women and the youth are heard and appreciated in my country.
(VC) Outside the political scene on the African continent there are still very few movements making room for women entrepreneurs and progressive women’s rights all over. What more would you say can be done?
(Fatima) We need to invest more in women and girls education in Africa as I stated earlier. It’s very difficult to talk about progressive women rights when more than half of women and girls populations are still denied education and illiterate! In Mali, for females age between 15 to 24 the literacy rate is of 39.21% ( UNESCO) this statistic needs to be addressed because it is outrageous. We are in 2019 it should be no women left behind. Also, work needs to be done in formalizing the informal businesses. In Mali, more than half of those women out schools work in the informal sectors. We need to support their businesses, provide them with skill trainings, literacy and financial literacy, in order to make their work more profitable for them and for our continent.
I would like to actively contribute to bring peace in Mali, attract more investors to the continent and have more young and female diplomats within governments.
(VC) As a beautiful black woman in Africa who is well traveled and perhaps a little privileged, what do you tell the aspiring young woman or entrepreneur about success and risk?
(Fatima) I would say focus on your “objectives” during the journey you will encounter a lot of failures. You will hear a lot of voices telling “you can’t do it” or you “have to do it this way”. Specially as women you will be judged more on how you look than what you have in your brain. A lot of opportunities might be taken away from you because of your gender or you might find yourself in a very uncomfortable situation many times. But don’t give up, work very hard every day, focus on your objectives, surround yourself with people who believe in you and network tirelessly. One of my favorite quotes says ” Pursue excellence, and success will chase you”, make that your life motto.
Photo courtesy of Fatima Al-Ansar
(VC) At this stage of your professional career and accomplishments, If you could collaborate with any brand or public figure in business who would it be and why?
(Fatima) I would like to collaborate with anyone or institutions or businesses working hard toward achieving the empowerment of youth, girls and women in Africa.
(VC) What kind of work or impact can the African continent and its diaspora expect from Fatima Al-Ansar within the next 5 years?
(Fatima) I hope to inspire more young girls and young women in and outside of Africa, to be more independent. Their independence will lead to their own-self-development and the development of our countries. I would like to actively contribute to bring peace in Mali, attract more investors to the continent and have more young and female diplomats within governments. Lastly, I would like to work on policies that will be favorable to all women and specially those out of schools or in conflict zone areas. You definitely have not heard the last of Fatima Al-Ansar.