This story is part of World Pulse’s Girls Transform the World digital action campaign
World Pulse believes that when girls and their champions are heard, they will transform the world. The Girls Transform the World campaign showcases solutions and unites grassroots voices speaking out for the rights of girls worldwide.
We have heard from hundreds of girls, women, and male allies around the world and collected their voices, ideas, passions, and cries. These incredible stories are now impacting policy and transforming the world, so that girls everywhere can aspire to the education of their dreams.
Women to Watch: 4 Girls’ Empowerment Champions
Q&A with Fardosa Muse
Fardosa Muse: I came from a very polygamous family of 40 children and grew up with hardship. Every society has different challenges, but in Somalia, where I was raised, inequality is compounded by a lack of social amenities, poor education, and a preference for boys.
I recall my mother saying, “I want my daughters and other girls to be better than who I am.” While my mother didn’t know how to read and write, she was devoted to enrolling girls in school. She mobilized girls from nearby villages, approaching all the village parents, and looking for sponsorship from the local government. She initiated the "Neighbors in Need" program for community ownership to support girl child education.
Today, I become her successor, supporting girl child education, mentoring girls who are refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs), and advocating for policies that change gender inequalities. I am currently working in a IDP camp in Mogadishu, Somalia in a program that takes a holistic approach to preventing and responding to gender-based violence.
What underlying issues do you seek to address in your work?
After many years of war and terror, most community members think violations against women are a norm. Loss of livelihoods and lack of economic opportunities make refugee and internally displaced men feel emasculated and frustrated. Their anger is often projected on the most defenseless: women and children. Wife beating, rape, emotional abuse, and neglect are tragically widespread in IDP settings. The situation is made worse by poverty, which leaves women especially vulnerable.
Our program seeks to discard harmful traditional practices and socially sanctioned behaviors that promote violence against women as a way of life.
How did you know that this is what you wanted to do with your life?
In my community, education was a preserve of the male. Women were to remain in the home, to be beautiful and ready for marriage to the highest bidder, who most of the time happened to be a couple of decades older than the young girl. The husband was never a girl’s choice. This gave me the urge to fight for women empowerment through education, and the right of girls to develop and mature fully enough to make their own choices about marriage.
What successes have you witnessed?
I will never forget the day I was proctoring the national exams in Ifo camp, one of the settlements in Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee camp. On the second day of the exam I noticed the absence of one of the female students. I knew that it was important for her to complete the final exams. I asked the students about her, and I was shocked when I heard that her father married her off the evening before, and her husband and family didn’t let her attend the second day of final exams.
I immediately notified the local police station, and together with two police officers I went to her house and asked the husband to allow me to meet her. The man refused and started threatening me. The police arrested him, and the young girl could finally return to school and sit for her second day of exams. The case was then referred to UNHCR and three months later the girl was transferred to a safer location and offered the opportunity to continue her education.
Unlike before, many girls can now stand up to the community and reject early and forced marriage. When I managed my first gender-based violence program, I was shy and couldn’t speak out freely about sexual matters, which are taboo in our community. Now I can face a mixed crowd and talk to them about it openly. Some years ago, female genital mutilation could not be talked about in the community, and anyone who campaigned against it could risk being stoned, stigmatized and discriminated against. Today with raised awareness, many young men are now campaigning to marry uncut girls. More women and men are reporting gender-based violence incidents, and women, even married ones, are now going to school because they value education. Now it’s time for all women to be united in lobbying for girls’ education and women’s empowerment.