Madam Halimatou Traore and Fanta Kaba Keida want Salt Lake women to join their fight for a better life for their African sisters.

Traore directs a training center for the rural women farmers of Ouelessebougou.Keida grew up in an extended family of 45 in Mali's capital city Bamako, adjacent to the Ouelessebougou village region. Married to international soccer star Salif Keida, she has lived in countries around the world. She returned to Africa to work to lessen the suffering of her people - particularly women.

These women - articulate and bold - praise the good of their culture but also unabashedly speak out against traditions that cause unwarranted hardship and inhumane suffering.

"We are engaged in a battle," said Traore. "We welcome the support of our sister community, Salt Lake City."

Traore, a woman whose hard-earned power in her community would be analogous to an American mayor's, opened her training center in 1980.

By teaching nutrition, hygiene, midwifery, literacy and agriculture, she prepares rural women to play a more dynamic role in rural development.

Like a proud mother, Traore brags about concrete evidence of her work: cleaner water wells, trained midwives who assist women in childbirth, outside ovens that use less firewood, homemade soap that can be sold to buy medicine.

Traore extends her battle to change practices that threaten women's health.

Her ally in this cause, Keida, condemns a common problem within the city and the villages of Mali - wife beating.

"Sadly, women don't fight it, they just take it. They get beaten at night, then go to the market in the morning as if nothing had happened."

She works to change the accepted view that wife beating is acceptable as long as bones are not broken.

Most disturbing to her is the practice, common in the Malian culture, of female circumcision.

The operation involves the removal of external female genitalia and is usually performed without anesthetics by unskilled practitioners under filthy conditions. Generally, the operation is performed when the girl is 7 years old.

The long-range physical and psychological disturbances are medically documented. Serious complications such as surgical shock, bleeding, infection, tetanus and urine retention - which may lead to death - are common.

A member of an international women's group, Keida distributes educational materials to enlighten men and women on what she calls "sexual mutilation."

The intent of the brutal operation, she said, is to "make women docile" so they will be faithful to their husbands. Some women in the city are refusing to have their daughters circumcised. To avoid having the operation forced upon the girls, the mothers don't tell anyone their "daughters' secret." In the villages, all young girls are circumcised, Keida said.

"More women in medicine are needed to talk about the problem," she said, asking Utah doctors and nurses to help educate her people.