“When women have power and opportunities, we can build a better future for all”: how women’s rights activists are paving the way for a more equal Somalia

Violence against women is a pervasive and deeply rooted problem in Somalia, and activists are critical for raising awareness and advocating for change. Here, women’s rights activist Dhubo Mohamed Abdi and traditional leader Omar Abdi tell us about how they address violence against women, and promote women’s participation in peacebuilding and politics.

Dhubo Abdi, speaking at a meeting organised for women activists to engage with traditional leaders.

Dhubo Mohamed Abdi faces many obstacles in her work as a women's rights activist in Kismayo, in Somalia’s Jubaland state. One of the most pressing challenges is the security situation in the city and the surrounding areas, which is extremely volatile – with violence and conflict a constant threat. “Lack of safety and security... acts as a major barrier to girls' and young women's activism. Sometimes I can’t engage in issues I am passionate about because they are too dangerous,” explains Dhubo. This means that many women are unable to take part in political and peacebuilding activities, or to speak out against violence and discrimination.

To push back against this, Dhubo is collaborating with different people and organisations to address violence against women and promote women's participation in peacebuilding at community and state levels. This involves working with local authorities and community leaders to raise awareness of the importance of women's rights and to advocate for policies and programmes that strengthen women’s involvement. By working together, women activists and traditional leaders have developed women’s peace platforms in Kismayo. The platforms bring together women from diverse backgrounds to discuss issues related to peace and security and to advocate for the needs and rights of women in the community. Dhubo says that the platforms have been a critical step forward in addressing the security situation faced by women activists in the region.

“We were facing a lot of challenges as women activists, including threats and harassment from those who did not want us to speak out about violence against women. But by working with traditional leaders and establishing these peace platforms, we have been able to create a safer space for women to come together and advocate for our rights.” – Dhubo Mohamed Abdi

Omar Abdi is a traditional leader in Kismayo. He works with government officials to strengthen women’s peace coalitions, detect and prevent conflict-related sexual violence, and support security and justice institutions that protect women from violence. He explains: “Women activists face cultural and societal norms that limit their participation in public spaces, and they are often targeted by extremist groups.”

Omar Abdi speaking as a traditional leader representation during a meeting organised with women activists.

Women’s participation in decision-making processes is limited in Kismayo. Women are expected to play traditional roles in the family and community, and their voices are often not heard in matters related to peace and security. This prevailing patriarchal culture reinforces gender stereotypes and perpetuates violence against women. Omar believes that traditional leaders – who are usually men – have an important role to play: “Traditional leaders can be important allies in this work. They have the power to challenge cultural and societal norms and promote women's rights in their communities.”

Omar explains that, through this work, women are participating more in resolving conflicts and promoting peacebuilding in Somalia.

“Women have been empowered to take control of their lives and contribute to the peacebuilding process, women have averted conflicts and have been responsible for resolving conflicts. Peacebuilding needs the involvement of women.” – Omar Abdi

Women's involvement in identifying the violence that women face is critical, as they can share their experiences directly with other women and have been able to offer avenues of support and resolution.

Passion for change

By working together, women activists and traditional leaders have been able to create a conducive environment for women to participate in decision-making processes, including peace negotiations. They have established women's centres in various parts of Jubaland, which provide women with a safe space to access support services, including counselling, legal aid and healthcare. They also offer skills training and income-generating activities. “The inclusion of women in peace processes is critical because they bring a unique perspective to the table and ensure that the needs and concerns of women are taken into account,” says Omar. 

Women activists and people in positions of authority also work together to improve access to justice for women who have experienced violence. This includes legal aid and assistance, and monitoring court cases to ensure correct legal procedures are followed. These measures have improved the responsiveness of the justice system to cases of violence against women and increased women's confidence in seeking justice. 

Working together for a better future

The passion for change among women’s rights activists in Somalia has started to reshape gender dynamics for the better, but a lack of resources is still a barrier. Dhubo also acknowledges that while those in power have shown a positive response to their advocacy, more is needed to support women activists – including closer collaboration between women’s organisations and community leaders to ensure that women can engage in activism safely. Omar explains other challenges that authorities and government officials face in addressing violence against women, including cultural norms, lack of educational opportunities for women, gender inequality in the workplace, job segregation, inadequate legal protections, poor medical care, and a lack of political representation. “Authorities and community leaders need to address these challenges by advocating for women's rights. They need to ensure that women have equal rights to men in all areas of private and public life, including education, employment and political participation,” says Omar. There is also a need for awareness-raising campaigns to promote gender equality and address violence against women, which should target all of society, including men and boys. 

Dhubo agrees that sustained efforts are needed to promote women's participation in decision-making processes and to strengthen their voices in the public sphere. Dhubo's work is driven by her belief in the power of women's activism to bring about positive change. She says, “Women have an important role to play in promoting peace and stability in our communities. When women are empowered and given the opportunity to participate fully in all spheres of life, we can build a better future for all.”

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