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The Women’s Rights Movement in Somalia
By Nura Ahmed
The names Almas Elman, Amina Mohamed Abdi, Ikran Tahilil, and Hodan Nalayeh. These were some of the many women who had dreams of a brighter and better Somalia and have dedicated their whole lives to helping make that dream come true. It’s a sad reality that these powerful women, who only saw the beauty in our country are not with us anymore—government workers, peace activists, organizers, journalists, and so much more.
In Somali, hooyo comes from the root word, hooy which means home. Somali women are not just the building blocks of their families but the building blocks of our communities. To invest in the women around you means to invest in the future because without them, there would be nothing.
Women’s rights in Somalia have been a revolutionary movement in the 70s because President Siad Barre knew that freedom for all of us starts at the home. He also believed that if we don’t uplift and empower our women, the mothers of our world, then our country will be in ruins. He knew the importance of making sure the empowerment of the women in Somalia was being prioritized because he knew that when we did, we would win in every category. Siad Barre provided education, and job training, he gave women protection against the sickness of the patriarchy, offered them positions of power, provided opportunities for social and economic mobility, and so much more. Women were not just menial citizens of Somalia; they were the backbone of Somali society. Women flooded every fabric of Somali society at the time, economically, politically, and socially. In Somalia’s golden age, with the rise of art & music, Somali women thrived. Somali women entered Somalia’s military, served in positions of power within Somalia’s government, owned and led businesses, started and ran organizations, and so much more. This movement brought the cultural shift needed that would enforce that though women have been and are the mothers, the caretakers of our society, without their well-being and their empowerment not being thought of, where will our children be? Who will our families become? Mohamed Siad Barre once said, “women are the anchor of the family unit, that nest of love and intimacy without which man would be lost or rather be warped. Without feminine tenderness, to see us through the early years, ours would be a cruelly lost world.” Somali women have been and are the foundation, the backbone, the leaders, and the nurturers of our society. You cannot have a house without building its foundation. That is what women in our lives are–the foundation for which will cause the collapse of society if it is not built.
Now in the 21st century, Somali women are being raped, murdered, harassed and so much more which has become worse if you are a woman who is immensely assertive in who she is and in her thoughts because an opinionated Somali woman is a means for death. Women who have worked for the betterment of the country, who have organized, etc have been targeted by Al-Shabab and have been victims of corruption. We often forget that Somali women have worked alongside the men in helping build our country. We forget the beautiful story of the powerful revolutionary, Hawo Tako who organized alongside the men, to help get rid of Italian colonials. She was integral in helping Somalia gain its independence from British and Italian rule. Where would we be without the women who fought in the wars, who brought their brilliance to Somalia’s economic and political structure, the women who have poured themselves into every part of Somalia’s fabric? Without those Somali women, we would be nowhere.
So truly, the universal truth that keeps ringing in my ear—a country will only be as great as its women.
Nura Ahmed is a poet, filmmaker and writer. You can find her at @sincerelynura on all platforms.