Somalia – the untold story
This book consists of nine authored papers and seven testimonies, all but one by Somali women. Four of the testimonies were tape – recorded in English and transcribed; three were given verbally in English and then submitted as written testimonies in Somali, and then translated. Edited versions of the testimonies were checked by their authors. The vivid detail of the testimonies is characteristic of Somalia’s tradition of oral culture, and will form part of a collective memory.
Of the papers three relate to research the authors had conducted before the war; the other six derive from the authors’ or contributors’ experience of the war period. Three chapters, ‘Women and peace-making in Somaliland’, ‘Women, clan identity and peacebuilding’, and ‘Post-war recovery and political participation’, were compiled by the editors from written texts and interviews with the authors and other women.
The book is divided into two parts – ‘Women’s experiences of the war’ and ‘Women’s responses to the war’. Part 1, looking at women’s experiences, includes two chapters setting out the normative situation for women pastoralists, Chapter 1, by Rhoda Ibrahim, and marriage in Somali society, Chapter 2 by Sadia Ahmed. In contrast Chapter 3, by Fowzia Musse, records the profound violation of social norms by the extensive use of rape and sexual violence against women as a weapon of war. Part 1 also includes personal testimonies of three women, Habiba Osman, Amina Sayid and Shukri Hariir. These women are from three different cultural groups in Somalia.
Key themes in Part 1 include the slaughter and loss of men and boys which occurred in the first year of the war. This echoes a caution from the organisation Justice Africa that, ‘the idea of men, somehow “escaping" from famine or conflict zones, abandoning women to suffer, is not generally borne out by the facts. We need to be cautious in assuming that men somehow “benefit" from conflict: most of them do not.’25
Part 2, looking at the impact of the war on women and their responses, is divided into three sections: ‘Changing roles and responsibilities in the family’, ‘Women mobilise for peace’, and ‘Women’s rights, leadership and political empowerment’. The first section, looking at changes in the roles and responsibilities of women and men at the family level, includes Chapter 5 by Amina Warsame describing women’s involvement in trade. Ladan Affi’s report in Chapter 4 looks at female-headed households among Somali diaspora communities in Canada. Shedding light on family upheaval and changing roles, but from the point of view of an internally displaced woman, Halimo Elmi’s testimony deals with the impact of the war on her and her extended family, which represented three of the opposing clan groups in the war.
The second section of Part 2 (‘Women mobilise for peace’) consists of three chapters: two detail the role women have played in peacebuilding processes. The third is a gendered analysis of the clan system and women’s position at the centre of both suffering and peacebuilding. The final section of the book – ‘Women’s rights, leadership and political empowerment’ – looks at the important leadership and organisational roles women have taken on in the community as a result of the war. It also highlights the fact that although women are playing more significant roles than ever before in terms of the economy and decision-making at family and community level, this has not yet led to equal inclusion of women at the political level. Chapter 9 (‘Post-war recovery and political participation’) documents women’s collective response to emergency and post-war recovery needs in their communities through the formation of civil society organisations. It also charts the struggle of women throughout Somalia and Somaliland to translate their aspirations for equal political rights into reality. This section includes personal testimonies by two women who, like numerous others, demonstrated leadership and bravery within their communities: Dahabo Isse who worked with the International Committee of the Red Cross feeding programme which saved the lives of over 1 million people displaced by the war and famine in the south; and Noreen Michael Mariano, a significant figure in the establishment of peace and rebuilding of Hargeisa before her death in May 2000. The book closes with a tribute to Somalia’s best-known female leader to emerge from the war, the late Starlin Abdi Arush of Merca who was killed in October 2002.