Women's Day: Celebrating the Somali Woman - 20 Years On


As we celebrate yet another International Women’s Day, we should take time to take stock of the enormous contributions made by women in Somalia as they  continue to work with unquestionable dedication to feed the world’s most vulnerable population in terms of malnutrition, susceptibility to water borne diseases, access to education, health facilities, and insecurity in the last twenty years.   

Women are increasingly taking charge of their families by taking advantage of economic opportunities  found in urban areas.  I am pleased to share with you some preliminary findings from FSNAU’s  just concluded  studies  in parts of Somalia and single out the urban North West representative study   where the findings  indicate that more than half of the surveyed households are female headed households.  The findings further show that  in order for women to provide for food and non-food resources for their families they  undertake multiple income generating activities. This is not only harmful to their health, but also contributes to poor child feeding practices. This is an opportunity for agencies to focus their attention in these essential areas for intervention.

Given the poor Dyer 2010 rainfall performance and subsequent rising cost of food items, the gains made  by women in Somalia continues to erode. Specifically, the cost of food and non-food items has increased tremendously with approximately 60% of female headed urban households spending at least 51% of their incomes on food alone.

The national prevalence of underweight malnutrition among women in reproductive age (15-49) stands at 26.2%, while Vitamin A deficiency and anaemia is 50% and 54% respectively1. Furthermore, the already reported high prevalence of aneamia (50%), among Somali women is likely to increase due to the prevailing multiple risks, including - conflict, drought and environmental degradation. Iron deficiency in pregnancy is a potential risk of dying during child birth.

Illiteracy levels among female heads of households is as high as 65%.  Further,  in every 10 boys attending primary school, there are 8 girls, with girls school attendance declining in higher education levels.  Unfortunately the importance given to the boy child education is not influenced by gender of the household head, but by the cultural beliefs that boys are the family heirs.   However, the increasing women’s economic empowerment is likely to gradually reverse the situation in the future.

Commoditization of water through water trucking is on the rise in the urban areas and more than 50% of the female headed households spending more of their hard earned incomes on water purchase. With continued water  scarcity in urban and rural areas, women will have to spend more time fetching water, leading to reduced time for economic activities, impeding their ability to provide food and non-food resources for their families.

Charcoal burning, mainly a male dominated income generating activity will have a catalytic effect on food and water scarcity as 98% of urban population continue to rely on charcoal for fuel.  If left unchecked,  women and girls in the rural areas will have to spend more time in  search of firewood due to  extinction of indigenous trees.

Let us celebrate the Somali woman!

 Women's Day Audio Message by Josephine Wanjiru Gichuhi, FSNAU's Gender Analyst

1 - National Micronutrient and Anthropometric Nutrion Survey, 2009

Related Links