Somalilandsun-‘I am a Somali woman’. The poem by Sahro Kooshin set the stage for discussion on Somali women’s civic engagement held at the Rift Valley Institute office in Nairobi on 6th February 2015. The conference, organized by the Heritage Institute for Policy Studies (HIPS), and Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO), with support from the Research Council of Norway and Somalia Stability Fund, aimed to bring together women and men interested in learning about and learning from Somali women’s civic and political engagement. This is part of the ‘Gender in Politics in Somalia: Access and influence in a post-conflict state’ (GENSOM) project.
The conference, attended by Somali activists for women’s rights, and representatives of policymaking organisations, discussed the findings of recent research. Exploring how Somali women have understood, accessed, and exerted power and influence, it became evident from the research that women have been involved in women’s welfare organizations, politics, and the Somali women’s movement in wide variety of ways.
However, the researchers also found a perception amongst interviewees that only one side of a story is being told. History often focuses on a minimized view of a Somali woman’s role and downplays her contribution to society. ‘Our history is male focused with stories of successful males.’ However, the representation of women is not uniform in these stories, as different identities of women emerge – depending on clan, region and other factors. The research was performed to provide a focal point for the expression of women’s issues and to highlight how
‘The position of Somali women has changed over the years, influenced by religion, culture & identity’.
Discussions on women’s roles elicited feedback from the participants such as Mariam Qasim, the former Somalia Minister for Women’s Development and Family Affairs, and Fawzia Yusuf Haji, the former Somalia Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, who spoke about the different roles they played in Somalia.
Maimuna Mohamud, the lead researcher, observed that the majority of women interviewed shared the view that most women’s involvement in society reflects their sense of responsibility, which often changes during her lifetime. Through documenting the stories of Somali women, one can see the variety in perceptions of a Somali woman’s role. The discussion was enriched by new ideas and unique perspectives, with it being noted that,
‘Somali women’s experiences are not collective and each individual’s experience is unique within a particular historical and social context’.
The Stability Fund continues to support the strengthening of women’s leadership and participation in decision making processes in Somalia through strengthening the role of women’s organizations, supporting women in the private sector, and a job placement scheme for female graduates across Somalia.
More details in the writings and narrative of Somali women are told by Hernando Calvo Ospina a Colombian investigative journalist in his book Somalia: The Untold Story,
Below is a review of the Colombian’s book
Somalia came to the world’s attention in 1992 when television and newspapers began to report on the terrifyingly violent war and the famine that resulted. Half a million Somalis died that year, and over a million fled the country. Cameras followed US troops as they landed on the beaches at Mogadishu to lead what became an ill-fated UN intervention to end hunger and restore peace.In this book, Somali women write and talk about the war, their experiences and the unacceptable choices they often faced. They explain clearly, in their own words, the changes, challenges – and sometimes the opportunities – that war brought, and how they coped with them. Key themes include the slaughter and loss
Somalia: The Untold Story, The War Through the Eyes of Somali Women is available at both paperback $45 and hardcover $157 HERE