Gender inequality in Somalia

COVID-19 is deepening gender inequality in Somalia, as girls and women are increasingly losing autonomy over their bodies and the ability to plan for families themselves. It is projected that there will be an increase in female genital mutilation (FGM) and childhood marriages. The international community has a responsibility to intervene in Somalia to protect the human rights of girls and women.

Female Genital Mutilation

The COVID-19 lockdown in Somalia has led to a rapid increase in Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). Somali parents have taken advantage of school closures as a result of COVID-19, asking nurses to perform FGM on their daughters now because they have time to stay at home and recover.

Circumcisers are traveling neighborhoods offering to cut girls who are at home, causing a dramatic increase in FGM procedures. Sadia Allin, Plan International’s head of mission in Somalia stated, “the cutters have been knocking on doors, including mine, asking if there are young girls they can cut.

COVID-19 prevention measures are perpetuating the continuation of FGM and consequently gender inequality in Somalia. In 2020, at least 290,000 girls in Somalia will undergo FGM, according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Somalian citizens are unable to raise awareness about the dangers of FGM in their local communities because of the ongoing lockdown.

Child Marriage

Child marriages are also projected to increase as a result of COVID-19. Families are more likely to marry off their daughters during stressful crises to reduce the number of people they must provide for. It is expected that the economic fallout of the pandemic will result in 13 million child marriages by 2030.

The closure of Somalian schools because of COVID-19 could also escalate the number of child marriages. Girls Not Brides chief executive Faith Mwangi-Powell stated, “Schools protect girls. When schools shut, the risks (of marriage) become very heightened.”

Efforts to Stop Gender Inequality

International organizations, such as Girls Not Brides, Plan International and Save the Children, are taking a stance to protect vulnerable women and girls in Somalia.

In April, Girls Not Brides wrote a letter to the African Union, urging the group to take a stance against gender inequality. Girls Not Brides explained ways that the African Union can protect vulnerable communities during COVID-19. These steps include training educators to recognize and prevent violence, protecting social sector spending and adopting distance learning solutions, among many others.

Plan International is demanding that sexual and reproductive health information and services that prevent and respond to harmful practices, such as FGM, should be an integral part of the COVID-19 response. The organization also advocates that girls and young women should be included in the conversation to ensure their voices are heard and their needs are met. Plan International strives to end FGM so that women and girls can make their own decisions regarding their sexual reproductive health and well-being. Its work is extremely important because FGM can cause a variety of short-term and long-term health risks. Girls and women who undergo FGM are likely to experience excessive bleeding, genital tissue swelling and infections.

Save the Children is a humanitarian organization for children around the world. The organization launched the “Save our Education” campaign to promote distance learning and to encourage investment in education systems for the future.

Somali girls who do not return to school will grow more vulnerable to the effects of gender inequality as described above. The World Bank discovered that “each year of secondary education may reduce the likelihood of marrying before the age of 18 by five percentage points or more in many countries.”

Organizations such as Girls Not Brides, Plan International and Save the Children are trailblazers for the eradication of FGM and discontinuation of unwanted pregnancies and child marriages in Somalia during the COVID-19 pandemic. They are paving the way to decrease gender inequality in Somalia.

Danielle Piccoli
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Somalia
Following the aftermath of civil war and prolonged conflict, Somalia is now one of the most impoverished nations in the world. This is largely due to the collapse of the Somali Democratic Republic in 1991, an event that divided the country. War waged, killing thousands of native Somalis. Conflict flipped the lives of the Somali people upside down in what seemed like an instant. Many had to flee their homes in order to survive. Today, the poverty rate in Somalia is 73%, leaving most of what is left of the nation poor and struggling to survive.

A Divided Country

The lack of an active central government is a leading cause of poverty. The fractured condition that Somalia is in renders it impossible for it to put policies in place. Moreover, the region of Somaliland declares itself as an independent country. Somaliland has been fortunate enough to experience more stability than the rest of the country. It has even been able to rebuild much of its infrastructure since 1991. Although internationally recognized as a part of Somalia, the government of Somaliland refuses to attend “peace talks aimed at unifying” the nation. Somaliland acts as an example of how the division in the nation’s government increases the nation’s poverty as a whole.

Mortality Rate and Poverty

The mortality rate in Somalia is high because of this poverty. About 70% of the Somali population is 30-years-old or younger. The life expectancy rate is roughly 57 years. This low life expectancy is due to a variety of poverty-related causes, such as poor infrastructure, lack of formal access to health care and sanitation issues. The havoc that civil war unleashed on the country has resulted in poor infrastructure. Because infrastructure is so poor, access to electricity, clean water and other basic utilities varies from household to household with most lacking one or more.

Somalis must pay for everything by either bartering, working or selling what they have. This process takes a severe toll on their mental and physical health. The lack of health insurance makes treating these resulting health issues nearly impossible for Somalis since most cannot afford private health care. This cycle continues and builds upon itself, furthering the state of poverty that Somalia is already facing. Furthermore, there are few jobs available for young Somalis as the nation has remained in shambles from the violence over the past 20 years. The result is 67% of the youth in Somalia do not have jobs or a way to pay for their basic needs.

The Future of Poverty in Somalia

As long as the nation remains divided and people must resort to violence for basic needs such as food and water, the problem of poverty in Somalia will persist. Successful nations that understand how to help must invest more time and money into aiding the people of Somalia. Save the Children Somalia is a successful NGO that works to end child poverty in Somalia by raising money and using it to directly impact the children living within this impoverished nation.

The organization provides health, nutrition, water, sanitation, hygiene, education and food security services to impoverished Somalis. It also communicates with the Somali government to implement better strategies in these areas. By the end of 2017, Save the Children had reached 2,814,381 people, 1,717,809 were Somali children. The organization has different branches for child protection, education and children’s rights.

War and conflict have taken Somalia from a home to a land of poverty and struggle. Since the Civil War, Somalia has been trying to pick up the pieces of a life that once was. With the help of nonprofit organizations and efforts, there is hope that one day Somalia can overcome poverty and rise again as a strong nation for its people.

Alexis Page
Photo: Flickr