Seynab Osman Hassan (Seynab Atto) is the second child in her family and was born in Mogadishu, Somalia where she studied her primary and secondary school. At her second year of studying Economics at a University in Mogadishu, she dropped out to be married and moved to Abudabi, UAE with her husband. She got 7 children, 4 girls and 3 boys during this marriage but unfortunately, she got separated from the husband and returned back to Somalia in 2006.
As soon she arrived, she was astonished and disturbed by the dire situation that she witnessed especially of women who suffered from their rights being abused and violated and needed support.
After an assessment of the situation, she immediately contacted her 2 friends from the United States and Canada and explained to them the situation in great details with lots of grieve. Since she had decided to stay behind, in Somalia, she convinced her friends to support her start up a Nonprofit (NGO) in Mogadishu to help relieve the women and girls of their suffering.
Seynab established here NGO in Mogadishu and later set up offices in almost all districts in South Central including Bakol, Kismayo, Baidoa among others. The NGO, Women Initiative for Society Empowerment (WISE) was operational for a period of two years, from 2008-2010 but was closed after insurgents increased their presence in the towns she was working in due to security concerns.
Later that year, she moved to Galkayo (South) town whilst full of doubts, however hopeful that things would work out. While in Galkayo, she kept in touch with her 2 friends and always updated them on her situation and what she saw in the new town. After 3 months, she had already started locally integrating with the host community and she realized that the situation of women and girls was the same as that in Mogadishu and thought of ways she can come in and intervene to fight for women’s rights.
Fortunately, the mayor of the town resigned at that time and the position was vacant. She talked and discussed with the community and informed them of her passion for supporting women and girls and through her words, some community members shared her views to the President of Galmudug State (MR. Mohamed Ahmed Ali) at that time, who was impressed with her commitment of being able to prioritize the needs of the community and more so being proactive. He immediately appointed her as the new mayor of South Galkayo.
Seynab became the first female mayor of South Galkayo and of cause the whole Somalia sending shock waves across the community in Somalia having crossed a line which many thought women could not. Seynab said, “the day I was nominated I was very happy because I knew I can now start fulfilling my wish of supporting poor women and girls in my community and fight for their rights and the whole community at large. I also learnt that day that the community had a very wrong perception of women being leaders in all aspects and saw it as abuse to the community and its traditions.’’
She knew many forces would be against her but she decided to strive and do her part which was to serve the community with her level best. She faced all the challenges and abuse but remained focused to bring on board a new leadership structure which brought positive energy and development in her community.
Immediately she reported to work, she involved the international communities who were working in the area and engaged them on how they would support the community. She partnered with local leaders, business people and relevant stakeholders who agreed to work closely with her.
She said “When I reported to work, there were one chair, table, a desktop and a printer only and no others materials but I decided to overlook all that and embark on what really brought me to office’’
Seynab continues saying, “on my 4th day in office, I went to visit slaughterhouses at the market and noticed that animals were slaughtered on the ground with papers laid down and in unhygienic conditions. It was very sad and I then came up with a strategy to stop animal slaughtering in such conditions and also introduced a new rule of veterinary doctors being present to supervise the whole place and to ensure people get clean meat and in good conditions.”
She advocated donors and immediately Relief International came on board and supported the community by building a space for slaughter and stands where animal’s meat would be kept safe and hygienic. Relief International also provided vehicles to carry away rubbish from the slaughterhouse site to dumpsite (5 in number) which were prepared by COOPI agency. COOPI also provided large rubbish bins to the community which were used to collect rubbish from the community, business entities and the market, and later dumped to the bigger dumpsites. The initiative led to a clean environment and most importantly employment for women who used to collect rubbish from houses.
She said “I remember at that moment I was still a board member of WISE and one lady used to work on small projects which of cause I oversaw most of the time and influenced some of the decisions the organization made”
Seynab ensured that market structures (which she requested) were constructed before the allocated time and opened for UNHCR donor delegates to visit and see the accomplishment of their project. The delegates were very pleased with the work is done in a very short time and especially supervised and managed by a female mayor. She said, “the delegates realized that women like me can make greater changes in our communities and I trust they will continue believing in women power, capacities and abilities at all levels.”
Seynab, later on, advocated for road construction and street solar lamps at ILO agency after she realized there were no good roads and lighting in town and many people couldn’t move or do business during the night hours. This was approved and she ended up constructing 1 KM road and placement of street solar lighting which is still beneficial to the community to date.
She said smiling “I am proud every time I drive across the street at night see the same streetlights working and shining brightly at peoples face knowing I was part of the team who made that possible”
During her work as a mayor, she realized that there were fewer NGOs working on women issues and they had less access to reach the vulnerable women. She knew that women are the back born of a society and she had a passion for supporting the women who had no access to education, who went through SGBV including other violation and abuse. And all she wanted was to help but her position didn’t create a platform to do so, plus her work which was for the greater good of the general community.
She mentioned that Mama Hawa, founder and executive director of GECPD in Galkayo (North) and NGO (GECPD) working on women issues was then supporting women and girls in North Galkayo. Mama Hawa’s NGO tried to cross over to her town and provide support to women but faced lots of challenges including some of her assistance materials being stolen and sometimes the staff denied access. She then joined hands with her and started delivering humanitarian aid to the vulnerable communities especially internally displaced people in her town. And because she supervised the whole process, the community accepted access for GECDP to serve the vulnerable community in south Galkayo.
After 2 years’ time, her position as a mayor was snatched away. She was later nominated as a deputy minister for women affairs in Galmudug due to her passion of helping women during her term as a mayor. The president wanted her to initiate her experience and capabilities to change and empower women. As days went by she realized that SGBV cases, rape and abuse against women increased rapidly and due to her political position it was hard to make certain decision or interventions on the same. During her 8th month, she immediately decided to take a decision she never regrets to have taken. She gave up her deputy minister position and served full time as a chairlady for her NGO (WISE) and immediately came up with strategies to ensure they save and empower women and girls through protective measures and support in all their needs within a community.
Seynab is a proud woman to have worked since then till today especially on her achievements made over the years and the massive impacts she made to women and girls lives in the society.
WISE mission is to spearhead women empowerment, gender equality and equity for community development and consolidate women initiatives to create a solid foundation for the health, education and development of the women community through promoting excellence in their livelihoods and use of environmentally sound initiatives.
WISE office is based in Galkayo, Mudug and they are planning to expand her office and work in other new towns including the ones she worked on at the start of her NGO. Her new strategies include; increasing staffing, work on Housing land and property, job creation and education opportunities to improve community lives and reduce poverty. She said, “all this can be possible if we get well-wishers, donors and partners who are willing to support us achieved our strategic planned goals.”
Seynab said her biggest accomplishments is “whenever I give out assistance and support to people in need with accountability and quality as expected is what has always been my accomplishment. I always avoid diversion of supports from the intended community and this has always been my first principle and goals and therefore, I can say my accomplishment isn’t stagnant but a continuous journey of every single day holding myself accountable to all that I do”
Some of the challenges Seynab faced during her working experience was about people saying that she is a woman and therefore, she may not achieve to the standard of men. Some men never took her seriously when she made big decisions in her workplace and some never approved her as someone who can make changes in the society.
Seynab has proved them all wrong by giving them a blind eye and closed ears. Seynab said, “ I will never stop doing what I do best even after all the stereotypical people strive to pull me down, I will work to ensure that all women and girls in my community are respected and get the rights they deserve and most importantly exercise them freely.”
Seynab also has an advice for youths out there. She said “Youth should work hard despite the challenges they face. They should close their ears from destructions and people who want to destroy their dreams and start taking steps and wants their dreams desperately without fear. Work hard to get what you want and mostly protect your fellow youths so as to build the state and the country they vision for together.”
Seynab mentioned that women and children should be given extra care and support because they are the back born of the society. She said “ If a person back born doesn’t work properly or is broken then that means he or she is paralyzed or cannot move properly, therefore the same applies to the society that has broken women and children, physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. The society will then not function as expected.”
Seynab has inspired me and many other women, youths and men in Somalia and outside the country. Seynab wakes up very early to go and do what she loves best, which is ensuring she puts a smile on women and girls in her community. She loves working in teams and has always been there for her team throughout the ups and downs of the agency.
She has been able to push through and through discipline, she ensured everything went down as planned with a passion to save lives. She is the most caring, brave, successful, accomplished, and happy and loves her life, family, friends and her community. Seynab is happily married and she is an example of a resistant woman who always strived to do great things and she is proud to continue even more every single day. She has been blossoming like a gem and sees her journey as continuous. Seynab is a hero for most of the women out there and should be known, acknowledged and recognized as a legend through the work she has devoted to do for her people.
By: Bisharo Ali Hussein.
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