Ranked the fifth-worst country in the world to live as a woman according to the Thomas Reuters Foundation, Somalia’s women minister, Maryan Qasim said, “I thought Somalia would be first on the list, not fifth.” The statistics are not shocking when you take into the consideration the high levels of maternal mortality, rape, famine, female genital mutilation, drought, fighting, and limited access to healthcare women face. Over 1.4 million people are displaced within the country, forced into fleeing from their homes. Women in Somalia virtually have no voice and receive very little respect. However, many women are breaking barriers serving in political positions in the struggling government of Somalia. Take a glimpse into the life of a Somali woman.
Roles Women in Somalia live in well-organized networks of family and social ties with strong support for one another in the community. Their pre-defined responsibilities mainly include child-bearing, child rearing, and tasks around the home. On top of their family responsibilities, many women are involved in small businesses in order to provide for their families. A majority of the population in Somalia consists of nomadic shepherds and subsistence farmers and a small portion work in the industry and services part of the economy. Decision making is left up to the male head, including settling disputes and ownership of properties. Somali women are found to be hard workers, and when their roles are not fulfilled the whole family suffers.
Education Women are not encouraged to pursue an education as they usually follow the traditional roles of bearing children and caretaking. Only 23% of girl’s complete primary school and a mere 5% continue on to secondary school.
Women in Power In the 49 member cabinet of Somalia, two are women. In the current 550 transitional federal parliaments only 38 are women, and there is a lone one female permanent secretary out of the current 18 government ministries.
Issues Girls are faced with the fear of being put into child labor, forced into marriage, or experiencing female genital mutilation. Ninety-five percent of girl’s age 4 to 11 will go through female genital mutilation. Women are victims of continuous domestic violence and rape, along with the fear of childbirth, as 1 in 14 do not live through it. When a woman becomes pregnant she hopes only for a boy, as a baby boy receives much praise and respect rather than the disappointment if a baby girl is born.
I Do In Somalia a fourteen year old girl can be married off to a 60 year old man; forty-five percent of children get married by means of force. Polygyny is permitted, but polyandry is not.
Good Grub If you’re a vegetarian, Somalia would not be the place for you to easily find meals of your liking. Meals are meat driven with courses including goat, beef, lamb, and sometimes chicken. Lunch, dinner, and the occasional breakfast are usually accompanied with basmati rice. Potatoes, carrots and peas along with bananas, dates, apples, oranges, pears, and grapes can also be found.
Threads Because of the harsh climate, Somali women wear light and loose-fitting clothing. Typically, a long flowing dress worn over a petticoat, called a direh, and large scarves are worn. Many women even wear a hijab, or a headscarf, and on special occasions adorn themselves with jewelry and decorate their hands and hair with henna.
Step by Step The recent opening of the women’s center in Mogadishu and the frequent radio broadcast programs on women’s issues are beginning to raise even more awareness about the events occurring within the country.
Religion Islam is the state religion, and as Muslims they adhere to the law of the Shari’ah whenever it does not conflict with local customary law. There is also the small presence of the Christian community.
Speak to Me Somali is the official language of the country, but Arabic, English, and Italian are still widely spoken and understood.
Technology Only 7% of the population owns any sort of phone and 1% has internet access. Camels and other livestock provide the vast means of transportation. There are no railways and no water transport facilities.
Home Sweet Home Typical housing in Somalia is a cylindrical hut with a conical thatched roof or a rectangular hut with an angular roof of thatch or metal. The average number of people living in each hut is 6.8 and more often than not they do not receive running water, electricity, or even a toilet.