Peace and Social Justice

Gender Inequality Against Somali Women

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The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) enshrines the special, needs-based rights of women. CEDAW seeks to promote gender equality by removing gender based disparities, and to foster the full development, participation, and advancement of women.

Gender discrimination is one of the most common problems for all girls and women in Somalia. It is deeply rooted in the traditions and social-cultural structures of Somali society, posing a formidable barrier to women’s participation in formal decision-making processes as well as their control of economic and political resources. Even at family or community level, women have a very limited say in the decisions affecting themselves and their families. Although legal provisions were established in the 1970’s to accord equal rights to women, they had limited impact on the majority of women due to a lack of effective mechanisms to enforce them and the persistence of long-standing traditions limiting their ability to participate.

Somalia is rated as having one of the highest maternal mortality rates after the Civil war. These mortality rates were attributed to female circumcision, unattended births and high rates of Anemia. The incidents of Anemia in particular, are in many cases related to a taboo gender-based discrimination affecting the allocation of food within the household. Women have little economic power and a woman’s assets, even if inherited from her father, are often controlled by her husband. The most valuable property of a nomad father is likely to be his camels, but it is rare that a daughter is allowed to inherit a share of her father’s camels. When it comes to her inheritance, under Islamic law a daughter is entitled to a share which is half of what the son receives – but in practice she may not receive it at all.

The effects of the Civil War including the breakdown of governance and our economy has greatly increased the pressure on Somali women. Now, more than ever, they have a much larger role to play in contributing to the maintenance of their homes. Large numbers of families have lost their male heads and as a result are now headed by women, who have to take on increased responsibilities. Due to war and the resulting population displacement, female headed households now constitute as much as 35-40 % of the total number of families in some areas. The women heading these households are already over-burdened by domestic work and must also assume the extra burden of their family’s survival. This in turn shifts the domestic work to the young girls and boys in these homes.

The gender-related problems facing young women must be addressed immediately. Gender based disparities must be identified and eliminated. The removal of social injustice and barriers brought about by an unjust construction of gender roles must be the focus of interventions.  In effect, what is needed is a form of affirmative action with a strong bias in favor of women! Subsequently as a strategic principle, these affirmative measures must be systematically implemented to assist women to realize their rights.

The Somali government and all humanitarian and development agencies need to urgently review their programmes and projects to see how they affect the status of women and girls. They need to find how to involve women in the planning and implementation of such projects; how the projects can be used to contribute to their social and economic development and the improved status of women. In some cases the cost of involving women and women’s groups in project implementations may be greater than using contractors. But if the cost is not enormously greater, the total benefit in terms of building women’s capacity for development and increasing projects ownership and sustainability, would be justified. This will also help girls and women to realize their rights more quickly.

All of this should be considered in tandem with other important needs such as the strengthening of civil societies, particularity groups based on, and aimed at, the development of women. Lastly, we must focus on the special need for their education with a view to improve their capacity to earn a living. When girls are without knowledge and the life skills that school can provide, these risks  of inequality increase in the short term and are ultimately bequeathed to the next generations.


Bisharo Ali Hussein is an Aid Worker and Human Rights Activist living and working in Galkacyo in Somalia. She is an avid campaigner for the rights of women in her country and has openly challenged traditional norms that undermine women, some of these including Early Marriage and Female Genital Mutilation.



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