These Somali Men Oppose Male Stereotypes to Fight for Female Empowerment
East African student groups are challenging traditional male stereotypes and stepping up to the mark in the fight for gender equality.
Images via Alice Rowsome.
The first thing Khadar, 23, did as a campaigner was to convince his sister to not perform female genital mutilation on her daughter.
"I told her about the side effects and I also made her listen to Islamic scholars that are against the practice to show her that FGM is not religious," Khadar explained to VICE Impact while sitting inside a coffee shop in Hargeisa, Somaliland. It's there where UNICEF estimates that almost all — about 98 percent — of girls and women between 15 and 49 are subjected to some form of the practice.
"After a lot of negotiation, she agreed and didn't do it. I am proud of that," he said.
Khadar, is one of a growing number of young male feminists from the autonomous region of Somaliland, a breakaway region north of Somalia that is not recognised by the UN, challenging traditional male stereotypes and stepping up to the mark in the fight for gender equality.
"Men in their roles as brothers, husbands, fathers, community and religious leaders have the power of playing a pivotal role in the abandonment of FGM practices." Yet, as Khadar explained, men, in general don't tend to speak about FGM.
Khadar was exposed to the realities and consequences of FGM on women's health during his studies in Social Work at New Generation University College in Hargeisa. "Once I realized the psychological and physical trauma, I was against it," he said.
He quickly became a 'Stop FGM' ambassador at his university and felt more confident in challenging some of his peers.
"When I tell others all the facts, especially young people, they are easily convinced," he said. "Lack of knowledge is the reason FGM is still practiced in Somaliland. I am confident that FGM can be eradicated in one generation."
After leaving university, Khadar was trained in FGM awareness by the indigenous-Somali organization Candlelight, and today works as a full-time campaigner. He helps host workshops in rural areas where he brings together community and religious leaders, fathers, mothers, grandparents and young people to start conversations about FGM in which he lays out the consequences of the practice.
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"I also post a lot on my Facebook page, which has a lot of followers," he said. Due to the sensitive nature of the topic, he explained that posting on social media lets people read and digest the information in their own time from the privacy of their phones.
"Men need to be engaged to stop the practice," he said. "So that's what we are doing: Engaging men."
Giving A Voice to Women IDPs
One of his ex-classmates is Mohammed, 23, the co-founder of a SOM-ACT, an organization that looks to give a voice to women from low-income backgrounds, specifically women who have been forced from their homes due to climate or conflict related events.
Triggered by El Niño and worsened by climate change, the recent regional drought has killed millions of livestock (specifically goats, cattle and camels), the backbone of Somaliland's economy. With no animals, families have been forced to abandon their agricultural way of life and move to the cities.
"We want to see the rights of women and vulnerable communities heard and responded to in the next five years."
And while more than 1.7 million people are internally displaced in Somalia, due to the lack of employment opportunities for women, most find themselves living in poverty with their children in makeshift slum-like camps scattered around cities. In the camps, the women are faced with sexual violence, land-grabs and discrimination. These issues, Mohamed explained to VICE Impact, are not always being reported on in the local media.
"We want to put social issues at the top of the agenda," Mohamed added. "So that their needs can be met. Women and vulnerable groups such as individuals with disabilities, internally displaced peoples, and refugees have been excluded from decision making structures and given little to no access to health care, education and employment," Mohamed explained. "And women in particular suffer from discrimination and violence."
A recent graduate in sustainable development and poverty reduction from the University of Hargeisa, Mohamed is now working full-time to ensure gender equality in Somaliland. Mohamed's team spends their day doing field reporting to raise awareness of human rights violation and social and economic issues that specifically impact vulnerable internally displaced women, visiting areas for example that are especially affected by the drought or where cases of gender-based violence are said to be rife. They type it up, go on broadcast television and make sure the voices of these women are heard.
"Women and vulnerable groups such as individuals with disabilities, internally displaced peoples, and refugees have been excluded from decision making structures and given little to no access to health care, education and employment."
Recently, due to the urgency of the situation, they can often be found in meetings with officials, humanitarian health workers and politicians.
"We want to see the rights of women and vulnerable communities heard and responded to in the next five years," he said.
Supporting Women Journalists
Yahye, 24, is Mohamed's colleague and the Director of Somaliland's Journalist Association (SOLJA) and he's making sure it's not just men reporting on women's issue.
"Women reporters play a key role in interviewing other women, they understand their needs deeply. They can get full picture of the whole event," Yahye told VICE Impact.
As director of SOLJA, Yahye has been encouraging and supporting women entering the profession, who - make up only 28 percent of journalists in Somaliland - remain underrepresented. As a result, subjects that are specifically relevant to women get very little exposure, Yahye explained.
From organizing workshops to attracting and hiring women, Yahye is encouraging the Somali media to support women reporters. A couple months ago, for example, he collaborated with Free Press Unlimited to help women acquire their Press Accreditation Card, a document that helps women get access when reporting.
"You show your badge and you get access, yet so few women had one," he said. And he leads by example. "We asked Ayaan, also known as Kaaba, a young poet known for her activism for the empowerment of women to join our team at SOM-ACT and help us with our coverage of gender issues and inequalities," he told VICE Impact. "And her work is amazing, she's an amazing journalist inspiring many young Somali women looking to get into the profession."
Today, they have teamed up and started working on a joint filming project. The idea: start making documentaries that amplify the voices of the most vulnerable and offer new perspectives on issues generally considered taboo in Somaliland.
"It's an accessible medium that isn't really used in Somaliland but we think we could make a big difference by making documentaries," Yahye told VICE Impact.
The first film on their production schedule: a documentary that investigates the extent of FGM in Somaliland and the impact the practice has on women, families and couples. They hope to see their films change legislation and perspectives.
With limited resources, they are looking for support. If you'd like to help them out, give them ideas or donate filming equipment, you can reach out to them on Twitter @som_act or @solj_org.