Malian refugees in Niger craft delicate, colourful leather tassels

Posted by MADE51 Team on

Introducing the Tassel of Strength. This limited edition tassel honours the strength and resilience of refugee women. Crafted by Malian refugee artisans living in Niger, these unique pieces use age-old Tuareg artisanal techniques mixing leather and cow horn beads. 

Tuareg tribes hold progressive gender views – women have an equal, if not elevated, status in the community. As a matrilineal society, family trees are traced through the women. The Tassel of Strength celebrates this unique heritage and symbolizes the power and potential of women in our world.

“Women’s day is a special day for me. It represents emancipation. Men should also celebrate women’s day because we, mothers, and sisters, take care of their children’s health and support them,” says Fatouma.

Fatouma M., is the designer behind the tassels. She smiles when asked to hold them up for a picture. “I love the colors I use,” she adds. 

“Since I was a little girl, I learnt how to transform leather into a valuable artistic item. My work makes me happy,” she says. 

As a Tuareg woman, Fatouma inherited the art of craft from her ancestors. Tuareg are traditionally nomadic pastoralists inhabiting the Sahara Desert. The artisans amongst them hone their skills making almost everything needed to survive, including tents, bags, pottery, knives, shields and saddles. Tuareg women are known for their handcrafted leatherwork.

“Working as an artisan makes me feel confident and independent. I don’t feel like a refugee but like a normal Niger citizen.”

Fatouma and the women she works alongside are refugees from Mali. Since 2011, violence in the Sahel region has forced millions from their homes since. Fatouma and her husband fled in with their three sons. “We fled Gao because of the violence…we have lost all our belongings while fleeing… Our house, my five camels and a herd of goats,” Fatouma explains.

They now live in Niamey, the capital of Niger. They lost everything but they gained something valuable: security. “We are safe now in Niger,” she says.

As part of MADE51, UNHCR in Niger is connecting Malian refugees, like Fatouma, with one another, so they can work as a group on orders for the international market. They receive training and learn new designs. Together, they earn more income through their work.

Fatouma describes the impact saying, “today our products are in high demand... I learnt to make a better design and how to save the money I gain when selling my tassels. Before, I did not sell as much as now.” 

At the heart of MADE51 are women around the world like Fatouma. We have unlimited gratitude and appreciation for these women and their determination. Through hard work, perseverance and hope, they are uplifting their families, communities and societies. 

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The ability to engage with refugee artisans in the Sahel region, and make market connections for their work, is made possible in part by the European Union, which has supported the expansion of UNHCR’s work with Malian refugees in MADE51.

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