Amina M. Warsame is a specialist researcher and writer on Somali women and development. Originally trained as a teacher, she became the Head of the Women’s Documentation Unit of the Somali Academy of Arts and Culture and was responsible for supporting and undertaking some of the earliest research by Somali women on women’s position in society. She went into exile in 1989 finding refuge in Sweden where she settled until March 1997, when she returned to live permanently in Hargeisa. Since returning to Hargeisa she has been at the forefront of research and advocacy on the impact of the war on women’s lives, particularly within the pastoral community, and is a key activist on the issue of the political empowerment of women. A former executive committee member of the women’s umbrella organisation, Negaad, Amina is the founder of the Somaliland Women’s Research and Action Group (SOWRAG).

Amina Sayid had completed her training as a medical doctor shortly before the war reached Mogadishu. Originally from Brava in southern Somalia, Amina and her family fled the fighting in Brava and Mogadishu, eventually reaching Yemen in 1992. Unable to return to Somalia because of the impact of the war on her community, since leaving Somalia Amina has worked as a health specialist and social services officer supporting other Somali refugee women and children, both in Yemen and in the UK where she now lives.

Dahabo Isse was born in southern Somalia and grew up in Mogadishu. Shortly before the war erupted in the city she was working for Aadamiga, a women’s non-governmental organisation. From 1991 to 1993 she was a key figure in the emergency relief wet­feeding programme (kitchen project) of the International Committee of the Red Cross. Unable to remain in Somalia she sought refuge in the UK where she continues to live. An active member of the diaspora she is the founder of Dadihiye, a Somali development organisation which responds to social service provision needs of disadvantaged Somali refugees and asylum seekers in London.

Dekha Ibrahim, a Kenyan Somali, has been a visiting trainer for the Birmingham-based organisation Responding to Conflict and is the

Kenyan representative for Coalition for Peace in Africa (COPA), a conflict transformation network.

Fowzia Musse is a social researcher and community development worker who trained in both Somalia and North America. She was involved in the first urban poverty survey of Mogadishu conducted in the late 1980s. Originally from north eastern Somalia, she was living in exile when the war reached Mogadishu. In 1993 Fowzia was recruited by the UNHCR to research the high incidence of rape occurring in the Somali refugee camps in Kenya. She went on to design and coordinate a project aimed at preventing rape and responding to the needs of survivors. She currently lives and works in the United States.

Habiba Haji Osman is a nurse-midwife and trainer from the Bay Region of Somalia who was working for the Ministry of Health and an international health organisation, AMREF, at the start of the war in southern Somalia. Bay Region was the epicentre of the war and famine in the first years of the conflict and after more than a year of trying to escape, Habiba finally reached Yemen in April 1992 where, unable to return home, she remains today. In Yemen Habiba has worked as a midwife trainer/supervisor for more than six years with a health programme which trains Yemeni women midwives and health care workers to provide locally managed mother and child health services at community level.

Halimo Elmi Weheliye, a nurse-midwife, was Principal of the Post­Basic Nursing and Midwifery School in Mogadishu until the start of the war when the services collapsed. Although from Mogadishu, Halimo was uprooted by the war and forced to seek refuge with her children among her husband’s family in the north west of the country, Somaliland. Since 1997 she has been the leading health worker and driving force behind an internationally sponsored programme to support the local staff development and management of Hargeisa’s primary health level services for women and children.

Ladan Affi is the youngest contributor to the book. She was a student in the United States preparing to return home when conflict broke out in Somalia. Unable to return to Somalia she settled in Ottawa, Canada and works closely with the Somali refugee community there. She is particularly concerned about Somalis’ experience of living in the diaspora. Ladan was instrumental in forming a group of Somali community members that attempts to raise awareness, promote positive images about Somalia and promote Somali culture. She works for the Catholic Immigration Centre in Canada.

The late Noreen Michael Mariano spent all of her adult life fighting for justice and was committed to improving the lives of women and children. In the late 1950s and early 1960s as a young woman she was an active member of Somalia’s first woman’s organisation, the Somali Women’s Association. Later, along with other women activists, Noreen personally lobbied Siad Barre to amend the Family Law to address the injustices endured by women throughout the country. Having worked for UNICEF Somalia for many years Noreen was a skilled development practitioner by the time she fled Mogadishu in December 1990. Although she could have found refuge in the west or elsewhere in the world Noreen chose to live in Hargeisa as soon as it was possible for her to return there in 1991. She was a founder member of the Committee of Concerned Somalis (CCS) a local non­governmental organisation which set up in 1992 to help restore basic services in the city. Noreen went on to establish a credit programme to develop income generation initiatives run by widowed and poor women; she was also responsible for opening Hargeisa’s first restaurant run by women – herself and her close friend, Amina Yusuf. Noreen’s health deteriorated in the late 1990s and she passed away in May 2000 while in Rwanda.

Rhoda Mohamoud Ibrahim has been a development practitioner for more than 18 years, working before the war with international agencies including Oxfam UK and Overseas Education Fund. She went into exile in Britain in early 1990 and worked for the Pastoral and Environmental Network for the Horn of Africa before becoming involved with the diaspora organisation SOMRA (Somali Relief and Assistance) which was set up to respond to emergency needs in Somaliland. Originally from Burao in Somaliland, she returned to Somaliland in 1995 to set up CIIR’s programme to support emerging civil society organisations. In 2001 she was appointed chair of the SNM veterans organisation, Soyaal. She is currently the Somaliland representative for Coalition for Peace in Africa (COPA), a conflict transformation network.

Sadia Musse Ahmed, a social scientist and one of Somalia’s only female anthropologists, was before the war Deputy Head of the Women’s Documentation Unit in the Somali Academy of Arts and Culture in Mogadishu. Accused of anti-revolutionary attitudes she

was arrested and imprisoned under Siad Barre’s government. She sought exile in Britain in 1990 and in 1991 worked with other Somali refugees to set up the diaspora organisation Somali Relief Association (SOMRA) to raise funds and set up projects in-country for the needs of war-displaced and affected. In 1994 Sadia co-founded Hal Abuur, a Somali literary and cultural journal publishing literature to promote Somali identity. Having previously worked in Ethiopia as the Gender Officer for the Pastoral and Environmental Network in the Horn of Africa (PENHA), Sadia is now PENHA’s Somaliland Programme Director, based in Hargeisa.

Shukri Hariir Ismail is a well-known radio broadcaster and also a poet and writer. Shukri had to flee her home city of Hargeisa when it was bombed in 1988 and spent the next two and a half years in a refugee camp in Ethiopia. There, along with other women, she became involved in community activities. Returning to Somaliland in 1991 she has become one of Somaliland’s leading spokeswomen on peace and women’s rights issues. As well as being the founder member of the Women’s Advocacy and Progressive Organisation (WAPO), and a broadcaster for Radio Hargeisa, in recent years Shukri has worked on a radio-based health promotion programme run by Health Unlimited.

Zeynab Mohamed Hassan worked before the war as a teacher in primary and secondary schools, and held various posts within the Ministry of Education, including Bay Regional Coordinator for women’s education, Director of income generating programmes in the Women’s Education Institute, and Supervisor of women’s income generating programmes in the Institute of Adult Education, Mogadishu. Between 1992 and 1994 she was the Programme Coordinator for the Somaliland Women’s Development Association (SOWDA) in Hargeisa. She has written materials on adult education techniques, hand-sewing, child care and nutrition, and female genital mutilation. She is currently working in Hargeisa with the inter­national development agency Life and Peace Institute.

The Editors

Judith Gardner is trained in anthropology and community development. A development practitioner with a special interest in gender relations and how communities cope with crisis, she has worked in Sudan, Somalia and Yemen. She is currently the Africa and Middle East Regional Manager for CIIR.

Judy El Bushra is a development practitioner who has specialised in gender and conflict since the early 1990s. Until recently Head of ACORD’s Research and Policy Programme, she has worked in many contexts throughout Africa with particular focus on Sudan and Somalia. Her previous publications include Development in Conflict: The Gender Dimension (Oxfam UK/I, ACORD, 1993) and ‘Transforming Conflict: Some Thoughts on a Gendered Understanding of Conflict Processes’, in Ruth Jacobson, Susie Jacobs, Jennifer Marchbank (eds) States of Conflict. Gender, Violence and Resistance (Zed Press, 2000). Judy currently works as a freelance consultant.

[1] live in a compound with my husband and his second wife, and I was woken up by a torch shining in my face. I asked who it was and they told me to shut up. There were three men dressed in black with white

[2] Members of an internally-displaced women’s cooperative near Bardera collect wood to sell. One consequence of the war and the collapse of the state was the increased economic burden carried by women from all sectors of society, many of whom became their families’ main provider. (Betty Press/Panos Pictures)

[3] was taught by my grandfather that a woman has no brains, but the Wajir workshop has changed my attitude. Women can have breasts and brains. That will be my message to my sons and grandsons.


[5] The Somali original of this poem, which was recorded on audio cassette and stored in the Women’s Documentation Unit of the Somali Academy of Arts and Culture, has been lost in the destruction of Mogadishu.

2. Elisabetta Forni (1981) ‘Women’s Role in the Economic, Social and Political Development of Somalia’, in M. Bryden & M. Steiner (1998) Somalia Between Peace and War: Somali Women on the Eve of the 21st Century (Nairobi: UNIFEM).

3. SWDO quoted in Brons 2001.

4. SWDO figures for the proportion of women in the public administra­tion, ministries and autonomous agencies for the period 1975-84 show an average annual increase of 40.6 per cent. (SWDO, quoted in Brons 2001)

5. That SWDO itself was part of the coercive machinery of the state perhaps helps explain some men’s view (and maybe that of women too) that ‘men were seen as the enemy of the revolution’ and the organisation of women was a means to control them.

6. Lidwien Kapteijns, ‘Women in the Crisis of Communal Identity: The Cultural Construction of Gender in Somali History’, in Ahmed I. Samatar (ed.) (1994) The Somali Challenge (Boulder, London: Westview Press) p 229.

7. In this way, and through the food they provided, the humanitarian effort unintentionally provided resources to the warlords. It is reported that the ICRC had 15,000-20,000 local armed guards on its staff at the height of the violence. Andrew S. Natsios, ‘Humanitarian Relief in Somalia: The Economics of Chaos’, in Walter Clarke and Jeffrey Herbst (eds) (1997) Learning from Somalia – The Lessons of Armed Humanitarian Intervention (Boulder: Westview Press).

8. Mohamed Sahnoun (1994) Somalia – The Missed Opportunities, (Washington DC: US Institute of Peace Press).

9. They were displaced from Somaliland and the Central Regions as a result of the fighting in these areas between opposition and government forces.

10. In Aadamiga’s case it was not only outside ‘the Party’ but it was providing welfare assistance to those groups who were in opposition to the regime and hence the target of state-controlled violence.


[7] Recalled by a woman activist during a workshop held in the preparation of this book.

2. Some of the women active in the women’s movement during the 1960s to 1980s remain proactive and important figures in the movement today.

3. Maria Brons & Amina M. Warsame (2003) ‘Empowerment after return: Negaad women in Somaliland’, unpublished paper.

4. The Somaliland national umbrella of women’s organisations, Negaad, plays a central role in the campaign for women in leadership. Negaad works to advance the economic, social and political status of women in Somaliland, and to strengthen the capacity of its members to implement effective projects that facilitate the realisation of this structural change goal.