Editors’ Introduction

Sisters, you sold your jewellery

Depriving yourselves,

Enriching the struggle.

Sisters, you stayed as one,

United, even when your brothers Divided and deceived our nation.

Sisters, you joined the fight – Remember the beautiful one,

Hawa – stabbed through the heart.

But, sisters, we were forgotten!

We did not taste the fruits of success Even the lowest positions Were not offered

And our degrees were cast aside as dirt.

Sisters, was this what we struggled for?

The above poem, by the woman poet Hawo Jibril, was composed shortly after Somalia’s independence in I960.1 Recalling how women had financially supported and even physically sacrificed themselves in the struggle for Somalia’s independence, she expresses women’s grievances with the corruption of the new leaders and their failure to meet the aspirations of women, such as equal access to education and employment and political participation. (Hassan etal 1995) Although written more than 30 years ago, the sentiments conveyed in Hawo Jibril’s poem would resonate with many women in Somalia today.

Somalia’s women’s movement up to 1991

Somalia’s women’s movement emerged during the struggle for inde­pendence in the 1940s and 1950s when Somalis actively organised

against colonial domination. Large numbers of women participated in the struggle. As their experience of the independence movement grew ‘they began to feel increasingly conscious of their subordinate position in the society and at home. As a result, they began a struggle against their oppression as women within their own political envi­ronments.’ (Ibid) The first women’s organisation, Somali Women’s Association (SWA), was set up in 1959. Led by the female relatives of the political parties’ leaders, ‘although SWA voiced women’s rights, most of its activities were in the area of social welfare’. (Ibid)