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’