Qaad is the name of a plant (catha edulis) cultivated in parts of Ethiopia, Kenya and Yemen in particular. When chewed the leaves produce a mildly stimulating sensation and result in a loss of appetite. Qaad was banned for a while under Siad Barre. Chewed mainly by men, but also increasingly by women, it is now an important component of men’s social gatherings. It is sold in the markets mainly by women traders who buy from male (and some female) importers (see Chapter 5).

Nowadays qaad chewing is widespread throughout Somalia and among male refugee populations, including those in the western diaspora. In most of Somalia the climate is not suitable for growing qaad, so the vast quantities required to satisfy the daily demand are imported from Kenya and Ethiopia. It is estimated that annual imports from Kenya alone in 1996 were worth US$3.1 million. Qaad chewing is a colossal drain on household and national resources. It is often blamed for increased family social and economic breakdown since the war.

The extensive migration of men to towns in search of employment, prolonged political instability, war and drought have combined to force changes on the traditional position of women in pastoral society. Many women have become heads of their households and manage their families with the help of their children. Women are taking on non-traditional economic tasks; for example, many nomadic women have become livestock traders, some travelling deep into the Ogaden in Ethiopia to buy livestock to trade in Hargeisa in Somaliland. Nowadays men and women sell their livestock side by side in the market place. Women can even be seen touching the hands of men in the course of dealing and bargaining. This was totally unheard of in the past. (Amina Warsame 2001)

Participatory research by Vetaid in 19977 notes with some surprise that men are aware of this change and instrumental in transferring to women almost all of the decision-making powers relating to livestock production that had traditionally resided with men. Similarly, women reported that men are willingly relinquishing control over the family’s income and interfering little with the family income as long as they contribute little to its production. The report did note that men continue to be the decision-makers on the major external issues that may also affect the family. The researchers comment that ‘Whatever such changes may show, it is how much the average family income exceeds expenditure which will actually determine whether men have just handed over trouble to women or voluntarily empowered them.’

As well as in trade, changes will be seen in the management of camel herds, the pastoralist’s main asset. Camel boys may still be available to do the early breaking of camels, but other tasks such as training transport camels, castration, breeding and milking are likely now to be left to women. Shortage of labour in pastoral areas has led to an increase in labour-hiring, especially of children from poor families to look after livestock. For this, families are repaid in kind, which may enable them to re-stock. For settled pastoralists, animals such as chickens, cows and donkeys, are now being kept that are more in keeping with a settled lifestyle.

According to the Vetaid research (Vetaid 1997), when women were asked to prioritise their problems they placed shelter next to water, although shelter was a problem rarely mentioned by men. As noted earlier, women are traditionally responsible for the construction of the aqal, and traditionally a woman is partly judged by the quality of her house. Being displaced or returned refugees who have lost their aqal in the conflict and who have had difficulty in making a new one, women who have grown up with traditional concepts and values will not be satisfied with living in makeshift shelters. But it is not difficult to imagine that with the loss of the majority of adult and adolescent male household members, women have no time for making and repairing the traditional house and utensils. Almost every aqal visible from the roadside now has a covering of the blue plastic sheeting provided by UNHCR to refugees, and empty milk cans replace the handmade woven milk containers. Where the arched lool supports of the aqal frame have been lost or impossible to obtain without extra help, or required too much time and effort to prepare, women have constructed their aqals in more of a ‘wigwam’ design, bebe, from straight pieces of wood gathered locally.

One impact of the war on the pastoral way of life has been the high number of gashaanti girls and women unable to find men to marry and who are likely to become guun, that is unmarried women over 40 years old. In fact, the war seems to have had a profound impact on the traditional pastoral way of marriage. Vetaid’s research confirmed that one impact of conflict-related factors such as destitution and the loss of male labour to manage the herd is a trend away from the traditional pastoral system of marriages between distant clans (exogamy) towards the intermarriage of closely related families (endogamy). (See Chapter 2) Anecdotal evidence suggests this shift towards marrying within one’s clan is also widespread among the settled urban population. Reasons given are that all male relatives and offspring of the marriage will be of the same clan and should therefore never find themselves opposing one another in a clan war.