To avoid being whipped, mutilated, and jailed, women in Timbuktu now have to wear black veils and loose-fitting clothing. Radical Islamists, who took control of the city months ago, are laying down their law – Sharia law – and for the first time since they’ve arrived, they’re specifically targeting women.
Over the past few weeks, Islamists from two armed groups – Ansar Dine and Mujao, who took over northern Mali in April – have increasingly made use of corporal punishment against the local population. This includes whipping, amputations, and even stoning people to death who do not obey Sharia law.
In Timbuktu, the first amputation-as-punishment took place on September 16. Islamists cut the hand of a man suspected of having committed theft. Two months earlier, a man and women accused of having had an extra-marital affair were whipped in public.
Four days ago, in the markets and at the hospital, Islamists began to ask women to cover their heads entirely [Editor’s Note: many women wore light veils that showed some of their hair]. In a message broadcast on the radio on Thursday, they also announced that women were no longer allowed outside after 11 p.m. Since then, the Islamist fighters that patrol the streets have been monitoring the women, and they hit women who don’t obey this new rule with their sticks.
Until now, many women in Timbuktu wore light veils that covered part of their hair. But the cloth, often white, was quite transparent. The Islamists have decided women should wear a much larger veil that covers their ears, and that it has to be black. They also banned tight clothes that many of the young women wear. Now, they’re all wearing large flowing dresses or “toungous”, which is a 12 metre long piece of cloth that is traditionally worn in the Sahel desert, on top of regular clothes.
“The Islamists announced that any woman who disobeys their rules will have her ears cut off”
The Islamists announced that any woman who disobeys their rules will have her ears cut off and be sent to a new, all-female prison. Though they haven’t gone that far yet, they are still quite strict: on Thursday afternoon, as I was visiting a friend at the hospital, I saw a very pregnant woman arrive. She was wearing a white veil, so the Islamists asked her to go home and change. She explained that she was going into labour, and that she lived two kilometres away, so she couldn’t go back. She ended up giving birth outside, on the sidewalk [Editor’s note: another one of our Observers in Timbuktu also witnessed this. According to him, the woman and her baby were in good health after the birth.]
Since they had arrived in Timbuktu, the Islamists were rather lenient with women. They mostly targeted men, by for example forcing them to go to the mosque every Friday at noon. However, despite their violent ways, the Islamists haven’t been able to get everyone to obey them. By targeting women, they’re trying to hit the men where it hurts the most.