Historical Figures

Aoua Keïta, activist midwife

Last updated:2022-07-25

Midwife and committed politician, Aoua Keïta (1912 – 1980) was a leading figure in feminism and the struggle for independence in Mali. The first Malian woman elected to parliament, she played an important political role and was particularly committed to women's rights.

One of the first midwives

Daughter of Mariam Coulibaly and Karamoko Keïta, Aoua Keïta was born in 1912 in Bamako, Mali, then a French colony under the name of French Sudan. A veteran of the French army, Karamoko was employed in the colonial administration.

Against her mother's advice, Karamoko enrolls her daughter in school. Aoua attended the School for Girls and the Foyer des Métisses in Bamako before continuing her studies at the African School of Medicine and Pharmacy in Dakar. In 1931, she was one of the first black African women to graduate as a midwife. Aoua first practiced in Gao, before moving to various places in French Sudan. Not content with working with competence and enthusiasm, she endeavored to intervene with the colonial authorities for the creation of maternity wards.

The 1951 legislative elections

In 1935, Aoua Keïta married Daouda Diawara, a doctor she met at school in Dakar. Together, they are interested in current affairs and awaken their political awareness. In 1946, they joined the newly created political party Sudanese Union-African Democratic Rally (US-RDA). As a woman, Aoua does not attend meetings, but her husband, who she says “has always considered her an equal,” keeps her fully informed.

Unable to have children and under family pressure, Aoua and Daouda separated in 1949. Affected by this separation, Aoua became increasingly committed to independence. In 1951, she renounced French nationality and represented the US-RDA during the legislative elections, to ensure the regularity and transparency of the vote and to fight against pressure from the French administration. She stands up to French officers who seek to influence the results without letting themselves be impressed; the US-RDA quintuples its votes in the region.

Following the elections, Aoua was sent to Senegal for a while for “disciplinary reasons” before being able to return to Bamako. There, she founded the Mouvement intersyndical feminine, aimed at developing female solidarity and bringing together women working in different sectors to improve their condition. She represented this movement at the founding Congress of the General Union of Black African Workers in 1957.

MP for the Federation of Mali

The same year, Aoua Keïta was elected to the office of the Unions of Workers of Sudan. In 1958, she was the only woman elected to the political office of the US-RDA. In 1959, in the legislative elections, she was elected deputy of the Federation of Mali, in Sikasso; in this position, which she is the first Malian woman to occupy, she plays a leading political role, after Mali's accession to independence in 1960 and until the coup d'etat of 1968.

Committed to advancing women's rights, Aoua participates in particular in the development of the Malian Code of Marriage and Guardianship, advancing women's rights. It establishes the International Day of African Women (JIFA), recognized on July 31, 1962 by the UN. In 1968, she lost her political status during Moussa Traoré's coup, and left Mali.

Far from any political responsibilities, Aoua devoted herself to writing her autobiography, Femme d’Afrique. The life of Aoua Keïta told by herself, which she published in 1975. In 1976, the literary prize for black Africa crowned this work relating both her life and career as a midwife and her political commitments.

Aoua Keïta returned to Mali in 1979 where he only lived for a year; she died in 1980, at the age of 67.