Located in Africa's Sahel region, the Republic of Mali enjoyed various fruits of its transition to political pluralism and liberal economic restructuring from the 1990s to the early 2000s. When the Malian government sought to amend civil laws governing marriage and family life, and eliminate legal discrimination against women, however, it faced considerable political opposition. Islamic civil society groups capitalised on men's heightened anxieties to claim a more assertive role in the national public sphere. Subsequent legal reforms constituted a clear political victory for political Islamism in the country and a corresponding setback for Western-backed women's organisations. Tracing the evolution of Malian marriage and family law from the 1960s to the 2020s, this article argues that conflicting notions of what it means to protect women, coupled with the structural failings of Mali's post-colonial state, have stymied efforts to ensure women's rights within a secular, egalitarian legal framework.