About the Author: Ruth Bennett serves as the Public Affairs Advisor for the Office of International Women’s Issues. This entry is one in a series of profiles of the 2009 International Women of Courage Award recipients.
In 1996, when she was 12, Hadizatou Mani was sold for $500. "I was negotiated over like a goat," she says.
Ms. Mani was a slave because her mother was a slave. Her status – and her future, and the future of her children – was attached to her caste. She was purchased by a man in his sixties, who beat her, sent her to work long hours in the field, raped her, and made her bear him three children.
Although Niger criminalized slavery in 2003, Ms. Mani’s master first kept the news from her and later tried to convince village authorities that she was not a slave but one of his wives. When Ms. Mani finally won her "certificate of liberation" in 2005 and married a man of her choosing, her former master charged her with bigamy. She was sentenced to prison for six months.
Ms. Mani worked with the local NGO Timidria, and later with the British NGO Anti-Slavery International, to bring a case to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) charging that the Government of Niger had not successfully protected her rights under its anti-slavery laws.
“It was very difficult to challenge my former master and to speak out when people see you as nothing more than a slave," Ms Mani said in comments published by Anti-Slavery International. "But I knew that this was the only way to protect my child from suffering the same fate as myself. Nobody deserves to be enslaved. We are all equal and deserve to be treated the same ... no woman should suffer the way I did."
Despite direct and indirect pressure to drop her suit, Ms. Mani pressed forward with her case with resolution, assertiveness, and steadfastness. On October 27, 2008, ECOWAS condemned Ms. Mani’s enslavement, held that the government of Niger had not protected her rights, and ordered it to pay her a fine of 10 million CFA (approximately USD 19,800).
Human rights laws are useless if not enforced. Nigerien NGOs such as Timidria had suggested before this verdict that Niger’s anti-slavery laws are a "charm offensive" and were "passed for Westerners." Ms. Mani’s victory was not only for herself, but for the people still enslaved in Niger. Her bravery is a ray of hope to them, and the ECOWAS court decision is a strong message to the government of Niger and other countries in the region that anti-slavery laws must be more than words on paper.