A baby naming ceremony in Bamako.

A mother gets henna done for a baby naming ceremony in Bamako.

Niatata Traore inside her home. Niatata is did not flee Timbuktu during the militant occupation last year. She was arrested outside her home on the way to gather water for refusing to wear a full hijab while working in the desert heat.

The remains of destroyed manuscripts at the Ahmed Baba Institute of Higher Learning and Islamic Research in Timbuktu, Mali. The institute was home to thousands of manuscripts that were destroyed by jihadis, who used it as their barracks during the 2012 occupation.

Badje Sosandis from Timbuktu, Mali. The seventeen year old returned to Mali this past October after after fleeing the conflict.

Women gather in the streets of Timbuktu, Mali on a Sunday afternoon to celebrate a three day wedding.

Women gather in the streets of Timbuktu, Mali on a Sunday afternoon to celebrate a three day wedding.

Madame Gassamba, 55, and her family were forced to flee to Bamako during the conflict.  “Before 2012 there were no problems. Then they cut off the life of Timbuktu. Women were raped, forced into marriages. We could not go out, we had to cover up, to wear the burka completely. You couldn’t use your hands, if a hand was seen you’d get hit and put in prison.”

An outdoor hair salon in a shack in Bamako, Mali.

A co-ed Islamic school in Bamako, Mali.

Girls play basketball in downtown Timbuktu, Mali, as part of the Academie de Basket coached by El Hadj Adjanga, a 54-year-old local butcher.  “I can tell you this..the first week after liberation — as soon as they could do it — the kids were back here playing,” he said.

Women at a bar in Bamako, Mali. A combination of fear after the 2012 conflict and a rising conservative Islamist wave in Malian society has led to the shuttering of many establishments that serve alcohol, even in the capital.

Night falls in Timbuktu.

A large crowd of men and women at a comedy show in Bamako.

A woman rides her motorcycle across the Niger River in Bamako.

A Quiet Defiance: The Women’s War in Mali by Katie Orlinsky

Mali has been long been known for both its rich ancient Islamic history, and its modern vibrant culture. But over the past two years, many of these features were almost permanently destroyed, when jihadi militants took over the cities of the north, like Gao and Timbuktu. Imposing their own despotic version of religious law, with brutal punishments and public executions, the jihadis threatened to decimate the relics of Mali’s ancient past, and suppress the lively spirit of its joyous communities. Women bore the brunt of this crackdown: they were forced to cover their brightly lit clothes with dark hijabs and face-covering burkas, and banned from work, school, or regular access to medical care. Behavior deemed “immoral” resulted in imprisonment and beatings.

In the spring of 2013, the jihadis were defeated by an international coalition led by French paratroopers, but the women of Mali are only beginning to tell their stories. To survive in the harsh cultural and spiritual desert of archaic rule, many hid in their homes for months on end, or fled to the relative safety of the country’s south. But many also found ingenious ways to fight back. Through small acts of defiance, and determined ingenuity, the women of Timbuktu stood up to the militants’ demands, and kept the unique spirit of their country alive. While the north of Mali still remains a semblance of its former self, the resilience of the country’s women who refused to shed their colorful and brash personalities, remains a point of pride.

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