Carving Out a Place for Women in Somalia

Published March 8, 2018 by Muna Ali

 Asha Jawanle standing in front her shop in Laso Dawao, Somalia,

“Even though Somali women have traditionally played a critical role in initiating dialogue and reconciliation between conflicting parties, they tend to be excluded from formal decision-making forums. And I want that to change” explains Asha Jawanle, an environmental activist and advocate for women and girl’s empowerment. She is also the chairwomen of Hodman Relief, a Community Based Organization in Laso Dawao, in the Bari region of Somalia.

By occupation, Asha is a businesswoman. She owns a shop in Laso Dawaco that sells a variety of food and non-food items, including household utensils and traditional handmade artifacts. But perhaps more importantly, her shop also serves as a meeting point for Hodman Relief, where local women gather to discuss issues that affect their daily lives. They often seek counsel from Asha, who helps them determine how they can bring important issues to the attention of the village elders.

The place of women in a country in turmoil

Over the past two decades, while the country has faced political turmoil coupled with cycles of poverty and sporadic conflict, women have often remained at the periphery of political decision-making circles, making it difficult for their voices to be heard and their rights to be respected. These realities are what prompted Asha to mobilize the women in her community to establish a women’s empowerment organization.

Women in Somalia are responsible for running the household, and in many cases find themselves to be their families’ sole bread winners. In addition to raising their children and carrying out domestic chores, thousands of women like Asha work and engage in a various income generating activities to earn a living.

Towards a more equal society

“This organization was born out of the need to be heard. For so long, we have been neglected, and excluded from partaking in the making of decisions that directly affect us and our families “explains Asha.

Over the past 10 years, the organization that started off operating from a small room in Asha’s house has made great strides in promoting women’s role in the community. Today, women have 50% of the seats in the village committee, where they participate in the decisions that affect them and preside over the resolution of local conflicts.

Having an equal or near equal representation and active participation of women is village committees is something that Adeso mainstreams in all it's work with the communities. With contiued dialuge and awareness raising, communities are often quick to realize the positive result of women's participation in decision making.

“Women represent half of the community, and often are more aware of the needs of their households and those of their neighbors than men. Without their say, half of the community is marginalized and half of the solutions to the communities’ problem are discounted,” continues Asha with passion.

Hodman Relief also collects financial contributions for vulnerable households that are in need, and encourages women to pursue visible and active decision making roles in their community.

Asha believes that empowering women and girls is key to development and food security in her country.

At Adeso, we share that belief, and are confident that by providing women and girls with an education and a space to voice their opinions, many of the world’s current problems can be addressed.

To learn about what we are doing to educate young girls in Kenya, click here.

Watch our founder, Fatima Jibrell, talk about the importance of promoting women’s political participation in Somalia.

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