Standing up to Patriarchy My Way!!!!
I enter a class, and the students glance at me quickly then return to their previous posture. I stand next to the board and the students look at each other with a sense of confusion. I settle my bag at a table, and begin to unzip my bag to take out my laptop and I place it on the table. Whispering starts and the students are asking each other what’s happening. A female student so bold to stand in front of the class, how dare she!!! that’s just repulsive. I write my name on the board and face the students and tell them “welcome everybody; I am your lecturer for this course”. The whispering becomes loader and laughter takes over the quiet scene. Male students start to giggle and make sarcastic jokes. “A female lecturer” one student says loudly “Are you kidding me.” I tell them to settle down, and yes a female teacher and well qualified for the job, and I continue with my lecture.
This happens every time I enter a new class. A woman that stands in front of men and actually talks louder so that male students can hear her voice is considered shameful. It’s rather difficult for Somalis to accept women who stand next to a man or in front of a man and speak up and let their voice heard. It’s unacceptable and against the Somali culture they say. Although the Somali culture is rich and beneficial in many ways, however when it comes to women, it is very discriminative and extremely harsh.
It takes quite a few minutes for the students to absorb and digest the idea of having a female lecturer in a university. It’s difficult to manage some students because post-war generation seems to lack discipline and the teacher has to demand respect and it’s never given without a price; and most of the time that price is yelling, expelling students from the class, and other scare tactics that physically exhausts anyone who decides to join the education sector. It becomes more difficult to manage when half of the class thinks you are inferior to them and not qualified to educate them. The sarcastic comments and the harassment continue but I am patient. I have always used a peaceful method, and explain to them why their behavior is not acceptable in a university environment. I tell them about Malaysia and my experience with international students across the world. I motivate them to go beyond the textbook and learn more. I am keen to teach and I prove that I care about them. Surprisingly, after few weeks my gender stops being the issue, and I am just an educator.
Before I joined the University of Bossaso, I applied to another university but I was refused to teach there. I remember the dean explaining the reasons why women are not fit to teach at a university. He was not saying it’s his belief but he explained the general view in his opinion. He told me the male students will not accept a female teacher. Some will say “A woman stands in front of us to educate us, NO WAY; she is inferior to us so we will not accept this.” I told him everybody is entitled to their opinion, and I continued to add “but to my understanding you are the management and they are the students so if they are dictating who is to be hired for teaching, then I would think the school is basically run by the students not the management.” He took a different approach this time and told me, some would argue and say “Well, we will not be able to hear her voice; and her delicate feminine voice will not reach across the room”. I responded immediately and said to him “Well that is surely not a problem in today’s world because microphones are available in the market and it will enable a female voice to reach not only across the room but across the university”. Everybody smiled at that comment and the dean continued to lead the conversation and explain the shortcomings of females in the society. He told me that women don’t really make use of their education and they waste it. He said “we produce many female graduates but all of them get married and sit at home and don’t try to get an employment. They waste their time and our resources on education but they don’t benefit from it. We allow them to teach at the Islamic Studies faculty because it has more than 50% female students, and we even beg them but they don’t want to.” I was agitated, angry and I couldn’t help myself but debate him at this point. I reminded him that I came to apply for a position, I explained to him “you are not giving me a chance and you are throwing at me all the nonsense and prejudiced opinions of the students, and perceived opinions I might add because I don’t really know it’s actually their opinion, rather than your claims, I have no other evidence supporting it. Furthermore, if the female students decide to get married and stay at home, that doesn’t mean their education is going to waste but they chose to educate and teach 6 or 7 students at home. I know my mother was educated and she invested a lot of time in our education as she was our tutor.” I reminded him that educating a girl, a woman or actually any human being is never a waste of resources.
Somalia has a long way to go when it comes to reaching equality and we have our work cut out for us, but we; the activists, the peace makers and the human rights defenders, are not giving up on this goal.
I am so glad that the political sector is improving due to pressure from the international community. We have two elected female high officials and one of them is the prime minister of Somalia. It’s a huge step forward that paved the way for other sectors to follow.
I am determined to prove that men and women are equal and I strive to show other girls that they too can make a difference. We don’t need to wait for men to give us; we can make it happen for us.