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'Reclaiming Spaces'

In Africa, a woman’s worth is determined by the amount of maize she fills in the granary, the quantity of yams she can pound, the number of children she can give birth to, the amount of hours she can work in the farm, as this is what matters. In my Somali community girls rarely receive any education outside their homes and the few who attend school will end up dropping due to early marriage, stigmatization by the rest and lack of finance to continue with their education. The name "Somali" is said to be derived from the words soo and maal, which together mean "go and milk" — a reference to the ubiquitous pastoralism of the Somali people. The Somalis are nomads who move from place to place in search of water and pasture for their livestock. Few Somali’s know what it feels like to have a permanent place you can call home. This lifestyle has reduced the chances of them taking their children to school as they give priority more to their goats than even the children. Due to cultural and economic considerations, the boys will be sent to school but the girls will be kept at home. Many girls and women remain uneducated in the Somali community with their parents having no intention to change this system due to the paternalistic nature of this society. However, the biggest barrier to education among Somalis remains apathy which continues to hold back women and girls as they no longer have the enthusiasm to be educated and change their status. The men on the other hand have further used this vulnerability to their own interest to prevent the women from being empowered or rising up against this situation. The result of this is a highly uneducated generation of women and girls that has characterized Somalia especially after the fall of Siad Barre in 1991 and the collapse of the government. The war has reduced Somalia to be a country of widows and orphans, most of the men have died in the war leaving the women and children behind who are now trapped in abject poverty. Education of girls and women has for long remained a non factor in Somali culture as the girls will be married off at a tender age and forever remain a housewife. I once visited a small village on the border of Ethiopia and Kenya called ‘Farjan’ (Finger of Paradise) where there are no roads, no piped water, no stone houses just traditional Somali huts called ‘hori’ and you had to walk 10Km to climb the tallest tree to access telephone network. I stayed in this really cold village for four days, since there was no internet or telephone I used to accompany the young girls in the morning as they go to herd goats and sheep and stay there till dusk only to return the animals back to their shade. I was amused by the resilience of these young girls who walked miles every day herding cattle and my fear was more of hyenas and lions in the forest. During the night they would all come back to ‘farjan’ together with the older unmarried girls who are tasked with looking after the camels and they would all sit round on the floor in a tiny room with their books and be taught basic English words and alphabets. They had just acquired a teacher with the help of UNICEF through its mobile schools programme who during the day taught the boys only as the girls were out with the goats and the women were busy at their homes so the only opportunity they had was learning at night. For the four days I was there, I was impressed at how quick they were in grasping new words and the ease in which they pronounced the words. Before I left I had taught them some English songs and have since been sending story books for them. Yesterday Kenya voted for Amb. Amina Mohamed as the country’s first ever Foreign Affairs Minister while Somalia recently also nominated Fawzia Yusuf Adam as the country’s first woman Foreign Affairs minister making them now two in Horn of Africa region. This bold step by the Somali government is seen as a ‘taboo breaker’ as the government is now ready to overlook obsolete traditions that denigrate women. Whether it’s a cabinet post at a powerful African government, or the resilient of women in Frajan who ought to receive education against all odds they are all making a contribution to their community. This a celebration not only to Somali women but also all women in the world. With education we are moving forward and reclaiming our spaces in society.

"Someone without an education is like someone in darkness," Mama Hawa ‘Queen of Galkacyo’

This story was written for World Pulse’s Girls Transform the World Digital Action Campaign.

World Pulse believes that women's stories, recommendations, and collective rising leadership can—and will—bring girls greater access to education which will transform their lives, their families, and communities. The Girls Transform Campaign elicits insightful content from young women on the ground, strengthens their confidence as women, and ensures that influencers and powerful institutions hear their stories.
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Anita Muhanguzi's picture

Thank you for posting

Dear Shamsa,
Thank you for sharing such s powerful story about Somali girls and women. I am so happy that you were able to make a such a great impact on the lives of those girsl and it is good to know that these girls are fighting against the culture. Soon you have many Somali girls who are educated and ready to stand for big positions. It begins with the girls. Thanks for sharing, it is good to know that there are people like you out there fighting for change. Continue to post, we are here for you.

Mrs. Anita Kiddu Muhanguzi
Head of Legal and Advocacy
Centre for Batwa Minorities
Skype: mrs_muhanguzi

Shamsa's picture

Thank You

Dear Anita,

Thank you for reading my post and the encouragement. Empowering our women and girls is key..women are the emerging markets..we are a force..we just need to realize our potential. Lets support each others work and dream


Maya Norton's picture

Shamsa, I liked everything

Shamsa, I liked everything about this piece, but most especially the first few sentences, which were such a physical analogy to draw the reader in.

Where else can I read you? Where did you learn to write like this?

Signed: your fan.

~ Maya

Shamsa's picture


Thank you so much..i feel flattered reading your comments. You inspire me, make me never stop writing am also a fan of your page:). I love writing about causes i care, still feel i need to learn more how to be a better writer. See my blog;

Twitter; Shamsabirik

With love,

Maya Norton's picture


Likewise, Shamsa! I'm finding it truly touching the way this community of people who don't know each other and will likely never meet in person can form such a supportive, warm, and loving unit for each other.

Twitter - I'm now following. Great feed. I also found myself connecting closely with this week's reading about women's intution. It was very practical and I am indeed "guilty" of some of the things the author listed. It was a good reminder.
I'm (@MayaNorton)

Blog - Great name. I'll check it out.
I used to blog here:, but due to time constraints moved to Facebook for a scaled back version:

~ Maya

I felt lucky that i came to ready your post such powerful energy of hoe and i can see those girls learning english through your words.
Great story thank you for sharing this wish you good luck.

It is never too late to try make your way to your dream and left up your expectation.
Sudanes Women Building Peace

Shamsa's picture



These women and girls inspired me..learning through such adversity..they gave me strength.

Thank you for reading my journal. Love you:)

JoneBosworth's picture


Dear Shamsa,
You drew me in immediately with how beautifully you shared cultural information, weaving national, local and regional stories together in a way that paints a clear picture of women's experiences. Thank you for this excellent, well-written piece!

Not only do I feel like I understand more about Somali culture, but you left me with hopefulness about the future of your nation's women, African women -- and us all.

Your writing stimulates images and emotions. I was left wanting to learn more. If the nation is filled with "widows and orphans," is that loss and trauma what is fueling the apathy that you say is the key barrier?

Keep writing! You have a strong and important voice!

My best,

Jone M. Bosworth, JD

Shamsa's picture


Dear Jone,

Thanks for reading my ideas and my post really appreciate.I hope to write more about the plight of Somali women not only the negative stories but also the positive ones as well as the optimism that is in this nation shared by these women. The apathy is mostly caused by the loss not only of the husbands and fathers but also the loss of their country some their dignity as most were raped during the war. Most women now are beginning life a new with this i see a new possibility and hope.

Thank you for the support and encouragement,

With love,

JoneBosworth's picture

My pleasure -- I appreciate YOU

You have so enriched my knowledge and empathy! I understand much more about the "apathy" you spoke of in your piece -- the loss of loved ones AND the loss of personal dignity. It is amazing to me that optimism is still there. Your voice is so important in reawakening that optimism. Thank you!

Love and best wishes,

Jone M. Bosworth, JD

Beverly Rose's picture

Dear Shamsa, What an

Dear Shamsa,

What an incredible piece of writing! Thank you for sharing this story of Somalia. One of the things that caught my attention was the girls learning English at night, after a long day of herding and other work. What motivation and determination! And thank you for continuing to assist them in their endeavors.

You also shared that a woman is now Foreign Affairs minister. How is that being received? It seems like this is a huge step and hopefully only the beginning of a transition that will include more women, as well as make education for girls and women.

I trust you will continue to write and to share. Yours is a voice that needs to be heard.

In peace,

Shamsa's picture

Hey Beverly, I was so

Hey Beverly,
I was so impressed with these girls I had a great experience living with them for the few days i was there. Yes the women who have been given the ministry have inspired so many women including myself women now feel that their voices is finally being heard..they feel part of the political process which a great achievement. I will continue writing also want to read of your work..know what women are going through

Warmest Regards,

Sangita Thapa's picture

Very informative!

Dear Samsha, I had only heard about Somalia, never really got to know it until you wrote this beautiful piece. I am so impressed by the interest and confidence of those young girls who would walk miles to ‘farjan’ to take night classes. That is so common here in Nepal too, many girls and women do the same as they either cant afford to go schools or forced to herd cattle or do household chores during daytime. Lets hope one day we would be able to celebrate and respect the rights of all women. You're so right to say that education is moving them forward and helping to claim their space.Thank you for sharing this informative piece!

Shamsa's picture


I hope i will write more about Somalia..this beautiful paradise destroyed by conflict in which we are now rebuilding and i hope you can continue reading my posts so that you see what women's lives are like here. Seems like it's the same experience in Nepal. We hope to reduce the distances women have to walk to school, to maternity hospitals, to fetch water. Lets continue working for them and help emancipate these women through 'power within' and 'power bestowed' model we are all equally important in improving their lives. Thank you for reading my posts!

With Love,

anaisabelbbp's picture

great post!

Keep on enriching our minds with such inspiring texts and citations.

Shamsa's picture


Thank you for reading my story. Truly appreciate your input. Glad to be in your network!


turtledove100's picture


What a powerful story of determination and persistence Shamsa! Your description of Somali life and how, even in the face of massive odds, the young women and girls are overcoming the barriers erected by a paternalistic society are amazing! Let's all hope and pray that the Somali government will continue to have 'taboo breakers' so that the country can finally weave women back into society.

"Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach" (Clarissa Pinkola Estes, author and poet)

Shamsa's picture


Thank you so much for going through my post. I really liked your phrase '"Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach" (Clarissa Pinkola Estes, author and poet). I am optimistic soon that things will change and Somali women will have a better society to live in and bring up their children.

turtledove100's picture

thanks Shamsa!

Thank you Shamsa. That's a favorite saying of mine and I thought you might be interested to see the entire quote. It's taken from 'Excerpts from Letters To A Young Activist During Troubled Times' ( . Here's the entire quote:

"Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Soul on deck shines like gold in dark times.
The light of the soul throws sparks, can send up flares, builds signal fires, causes proper matters to catch fire. To display the lantern of soul in shadowy times like these, to be fierce and to show mercy toward others, both are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity.
When a great ship is in harbor and moored, it is safe, there can be no doubt. But that is not what great ships are built for."

I absolutely love that quote so I'm glad you enjoyed it! My thoughts and prayers are with you and all the women in Somalia. Take care my friend and I'll see you in the WP community!

"Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach" (Clarissa Pinkola Estes, author and poet)

Shamsa's picture

Thank you so much for this

Dear Turtledove

Thank you for hooking me up with this lovely poem I have always wanted to read it, just never got the chance somehow. I have read it twice already just now still can't get enough of it. I have the quote as my email quote absolutely motivating.

Thank you:)

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