Somali Women: The Better Half of the Society
By M. J. Farah
Somali women are the basis on which Somali society continues to thrive and exist. They take care of the household chores, they work, they raise children, they keep the family together, and they regularly send money to the extended families back home in Somalia. Despite Somali women being extremely busy, they are emerging as the educated majority within the Somalis. Strangely, they are not visible in the Somali political theater. Since they are undoubtedly the educated majority, they should be empowered to take the lead, as Somalia needs their intellectual assets. Unless they realize how crucial they are in this time of Somali political catastrophe, they will continue to remain the dormant majority.
Somalia, as a nation, was not destroyed by clan infighting; it was destroyed by the decisions of corrupted male leaders supported and empowered by Somali women. In 1990, there were two big institutions led by men, the Somali government led by former President Siad Barre and United Somali Congress (USC) by General Mohamed Aidid.
In retrospect, Somali women were active participants in the conflict as they were the cheerleaders of the institutions which led Somalia down the wrong path. Somali women were carrying the waters, singing and chanting words of empowerment behind the fighting men. They were collecting money and buying weapons in support of the warring men in the battle-fields. Small numbers of Somali women were carrying the weapons. However, the majority of them were encouraging and empowering the men to fight the aimless civil unrest. Consequently, these women suffered the most in the conflict.
Since they were demonstrably part of the conflict, they are part of the solution as well. Educated and enlightened Somali women must organize and focus with intensity to take the lead in turning Somalia away from the current destructive path, to a constructive trajectory.
As the leader of Somalia for over twenty years, Barreâ€™s administration could have prepared and trained young leaders and left them behind for the country as a legacy of his administration. Unfortunately, this did not happen and individuals with no strategic foresight brought the nation to its ruin.
Somalia had a centralized governmental system where power was concentrated in the capital of Mogadishu. Therefore, the general feeling was that whoever controlled the capital controlled the nation. Upon Barreâ€™s departure from the Somali political scene, ill-prepared individuals from various institutions such as the USC, headed by the late General Mohamed Aidid, took over the control of the capital and made fatal decisions. The decisions of USC as an institution were remarkably important, more than those of other institutions that existed at that time. Somalis are still living with its ill-conceived decisions. Somali women and children are generally the ones that suffered the most, like my own single mother who struggled with six of us in the war-zone.
It is extraordinarily important that Somali women get involved in the Somali political scene and itâ€™s they, the Somali women, who must break the cycle of violence. Despite the media spin-doctors claiming that Somali clans are obstacles to sustainable peace, clan differences are important and they will continue to exist. They are nothing more than constituencies with shared interests. They can be used to build a nation or to destroy a nation, as in the case of Somalia.
In same way that clans were used by corrupted leaders of yesterday to destroy Somalia, they can be used to build Somalia as strong democratic nation. Somali women continue to insist that Somali men prevent them from being active participants of the Somali political sphere. This is, largely, unsubstantiated. Somali women have important decisions to make, they can continue to be whiners in despair, or they can organize themselves around strong institution and take the lead. In this dark chapter in Somali history, Somalia desperately needs the intellectual assets of all the segments of its society, especially the Somali women who are becoming the absolute better half of the society.
The visibility of the Somali women in the Somali political sphere is remarkably important, and the time has come for them to get involved in helping their men toward exercising the right judgment for the sake of nation-building.
Since Somali women are the bedrock of the family, the nation, and the head of many households, they have an enormous say on whether the men in their homes decides to build or to destroy. As a reminder, there is nothing left in Somalia to be destroyed. Therefore, it is time to start thinking about ways of putting the fractured Somalia back together. If these women channel this political capital in the right way, the results could be a democratic Somalia with peace and prosperity. It is time, however, that they get involved in the Somali political theater and correct the self-destroying men of their nation.
There is an African proverb that says “When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.”
When warring men in Somalia engage in the battle-field, it is the mothers and the children who suffer the most. Therefore, Somali women have the greatest interest in directing their men toward nonviolence, and in the language of peace-making.
**M. J. Farah, M.Ed. is a financial aid counselor, lecturer at BHCC.
He can be reached by email at: email@example.com.