In this paper, I am concerned with understanding the recent efforts to reform the laws governing marriage and inheritance, the code de la famille or the Family Code in Mali. Since the advent of multiparty elections in the 1990s, prominent members of the Malian government and civil servants, Malian women's rights activists, secular NGOs, and international and bilateral donors have made efforts to promote various social reforms, including the advancement of women's rights and the promotion of gender equality, particularly through changes in the Family Code. While some observers have attributed the lack of reform to the increased influence of “Islamists” and/or to religiously conservative Muslims, I draw on historical research and ethnography to propose an alternative reading of the lack of institutional law reform. As I argue, the gap between Malian civil law relating to the family and the lived experiences and social practices of many Malians, who are overwhelmingly Muslim, has become even more apparent in this era of political liberalization and promotion of global human rights discourses. This has helped to make such proposed social reforms as the promotion of women's rights and family law reform more contentious and the ultimate outcome even more uncertain.