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Somali Women Employment: A Neglected Theme in the Public Discourse

By Ahmed M. Roble
Wednesday - December 1, 2021


In the historical study of Somali labour under a pastoralist economy, livestock represented the family’s wealth and has traditionally been the property of men where women’s role was solely in the sales and exchanges of livestock products such as milk and ghee, and spending those earnings on household needs.

As Somalia was modernizing and moving into a post-colonial era women played a noble role hence facing severe gender inequalities such as high maternal mortality, rape, female genital mutilation, and violence against women and girls are nowadays becoming common, though statistical facts and evidences are hardly to show.  

The participation and role of women in political, economic, social, and decision-making spheres are extremely limited, and across the country, traditional or customary law is applied on women issues such as rape, child-marriage rather than Islamic or state judiciary. There are plenty of cases which can be considered in this context.

It is often rhetorically narrated in the public Somali circles that a critical role Somali women had played during the statelessness, peace-building but it is evident that it goes unrewarded and often disregarded at the moments of political representations, decision-makings and the country’s fate. Women’s participation in the country’s strategic directions are missing which makes the evidence rather clear at this time of 2021 national election consultation where women are absent in the table.

This piece, therefore attempts not only to log into the entrepreneurial spirit of Somali women in the formal economy, secondly it sheds lights on the distorted perception of women employability opportunities such as women’s wages and salary gaps, a deserving space of servitude and its prospects.

Breadwinners in the midst of Civil War

After the state collapse, women in Somalia become certified bread-winners for the families and by enlarge endeavored a long, and sometimes competitive challenges in making a sound production through entrepreneurial ventures. Women committed to put food in the table through initiatives starting from small businesses to forming an airline, hotel and telecom companies whilst lacking necessary entrepreneurial background.

The entrepreneurial qualities are inherent and innate into the Somali women such qualities are the drive, focus, honesty, teamwork and tenacity which are pivotal characterization to succeed in the marketplace. These qualities coupled with the requisite knowledge, investment and opportunity would’ve taken the game into the par.

It is unfortunate, and griming fact that such caliber are wasted and missing in the major decision-making stages whether in the businesses, and private due to primitive, and distorted perceptions derived from Arab culture, and with misogynistic attitudes.

Observationally, the employment of women are little due to the lack of space in our education system with combination to cultural, and traditional reasons that deprives them of the right to be employed in the best places of the private sector such as financial, and telecom industries.

A Deserving Space of Servitude

At the political level, a great deal of legislations are needed as the newly approved women’s charter signed in March 2019 calls for a 50% quota across the three levels of government, for zero tolerance of gender-based violence, and for women’s rights to be enshrined in the revised constitution and the finalized electoral, security, and political laws.

The Politics of Clannish in Somalia is one of the major barriers in establishing a women’s empowerment into the political space of the country, and in addition to that, women are perceived an unreliable representatives in the political arena, because of their dual affiliation to their father’s and husband’s clan. These primitive, distorted and fading perceptions on women are more often derived from tradition, culture and sometimes perverted religious jurisprudences.

Today, a deserving space of servitude is direly needed as a certain number of research evidences inside Somalia reveal that women in general have more decision-making power and influence over aspects of their political, social and economic lives than ever before, but progress is uneven across and within Somalia as the evidences based on women and politics largely considers how participation is achieved in the political space rather than unpacking the political processes by which women influence.

The Central to the consideration of women’s economic & political participation and leadership is the concept of ‘women’s political participation’ (WPP) which captures women’s ability to articulate their concerns and have their interests represented, including to being able to critically influence decision-making.

Women political participation also about understands where power and decision-making are located in both state and federal spaces and how women can be supported to access and influence these processes. In this respect, WPE may extend beyond women’s representation and influence in political office to capture women’s experiences in areas, including civil society, business and service delivery.

Way forward

In Somalia and in the other developing countries the culture and social norms prevent women from realizing their full potentiality, and safety concerns as well restricts to their physical and economic mobility. In addition, gender inequities, lack of enabling conditions in the workplace makes it more badly for women to actively participate in the labor market. In the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, a holistic approach within the public and private partnerships could save this ill-gotten and ravaging scenario from our women and pour them into taking advantage to their potentiality. The initiatives of establishing Soft skills programs can improve girls’ and women’s educational & health outcomes, improving the women’s mobility encourage them to continue their education and participate in the labour force. Accesses to microfinance and small business enterprise development increases female participation in the labour market in the long run. Providing leadership access such as female managers could improve productivity in any sector.

Ahmed M. Roble

Ahmed holds an MBA in HR and currently pursuing an M.A in Peace Governance & Development at the University for Peace. He serves as Head of Training & Development, Central Bank of Somalia. He can be reached at [email protected].


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