Mariama Sonko

Movement Leader

name

Mariama has been a movement leader since 1990, advocating tirelessly for agricultural and land ownership rights to empower local women and reclaim agricultural autonomy in West Africa. She has built a movement founded on organizing grassroots women building solutions to many challenges they face, integrating women’s leadership and participation in democracy, sexual and reproductive rights and ending female genital mutilation. She told me how she organized women in different groups, as they were more comfortable to speak among themselves, without men present, and in their similar age groups (younger women together and older women together) so she would first speak with each age group/gender about native seeds and traditional farming practices and farming sustainably to feed their families more efficiently, then when trust was built would begin to organize, to talk about FGM, even to her own mother who was a cutter, saying “Mama I know you would not want to harm these girls by spreading disease through a dirty knife.”

Following the destruction caused by decades of war in her home of Casamance, and after losing her husband to state violence, Mariama was catalyzed, and set about organizing in her community. Throughout years of conflict, large multinational corporations sought to profit from West African lands. Women, the traditional workers of the land, no longer held land to their name, and indigenous farming was overhauled by invasive practices.

Mariama led her community in contesting chemicals, pesticides, and GMOs, introduced by foreign interests, in favour of preserving the land and culture for future generations. She began organizing rural women, using workshops, forums and radio to teach traditional ways of farming, protecting native seeds from corporate claims to genetic property, resisting pesticides sold by multinationals, and increasing commitments to agroecological peasant farming for food sovereignty. “They take our seeds and sell them back to us as ‘intellectual property’,” she told OpenDemocracy. “We try to tell them you didn’t create that, that it is inherited, it belongs to us, in the plural. For us seeds don’t belong to anyone. They’re common property.”1

Once organized, the women began fighting for the right of women to own land. Frustrated by the degradation of the land through the practices of multinational agribusinesses. Inspired by Mariama, they began challenging corporate forces, as well as organizing to protect the environment from exploitative farming, preserve biodiversity, and ensure that their resources remain accessible to its people for generations to come.

Mariama is clearly focused on organizing rural women throughout her region, and country, as well as the connection with organizing for sustainable agricultural practices and linking it to the role of women in democratic decision-making, control over their livelihoods, their lands, and their bodies, as they then began to address FGM and sexual and reproductive health rights, political rights.

1 Lessons from farmers and indigenous women: cultivate democracy, Jennifer Allsopp, 15 May 2017. https://www.opendemocracy.net/5050/jennifer-allsopp/lessons-from-farmers-and-indigenous-women-cultivate-democracy