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8 August 2021 - Story


Fatima Bashir, Girls Rights Activist- Somalia

 I am not old; but at my age I have already seen the worst a woman can ever face in life. I was married at the age of just 14, divorced by 18 faced unjust treatment, discrimination in school as opportunities girls deserve, like everyone else are hard to come by. But it is not only me – this is the reality millions of Somali girls and women face every day. 

As we commemorate the International Women’s Day on the 8th of March every year, we gather to highlight the challenges faced by women around the world and the success in changing the trend of equality and gender-based discrimination. On this year’s commemoration, I wish to ask whether my country, Somalia, one of the hardest places in the world to be a girl, can realise a better tomorrow if the course on women’s issues is not changed?

In my own country, we face all forms of gender and domestic violence. Girls are being raped and even murdered and perpetrators are not held to account simply because the victim is a girl. Laws that should protect them have never been passed nor is there any meaningful enforcement on existing inadequate frameworks.  

Whilst the rest of the world counts their successes in fighting gender inequality, Somalia has nothing to show. As a matter of fact, nine out of every 10 girls endure Female Genital Mutilation[1], one of the most heinous and painful practices a person can ever endure. Only 47% of our girls go to school. The rest are engaged in domestic labour - missing out on education, the key to their future in the process. They work in houses to earn a living for their families, leaving them exposed to all forms of abuse, including rape. Their circumstances leave them vulnerable to predators.

Over 45%[2] of the Somali girls are married off before the age of 18, forced to face a future they are not physically, emotionally and psychologically ready for. Sometimes they are married young because of pressure from their family other times, it is the only option available for them as they are denied the right to learn, grow and make decisions is taken away. If such violations against women and girls continue at the current rate and women are denied opportunities to realise their potentials, the future for Somalia will be bleak. 

As an activist for girl’s in Somalia, I have spent 9 years of my life fighting for girls’ rights and trying to change the trend. We still have a long way to go and education is the key to giving girls their freedom and creating real change. 

One of my conditions in my marriage was that I continue with my education. I knew I would be discriminated against in class. But fortunately, I managed to finish high school while I was married. Students would look at me and say: “oh, she is married. She is grown up. She should stay home. She should be with her husband.” But I had to be strong.

In addition to my schoolwork, I had to do all the housework and at that age, it was too much. When I finished school; I was really mentally tired. I did not want to go to university because I could not bear it anymore.

Fortunately, my mother pushed me to go to university. She gave me the motivation and support I needed. She showed me a better future. It was when I was at university that I got divorced. I married again when I grew up, on my own terms. I have two beautiful daughters. I did not let myself down. If I was not strong enough and did not have the support of my family, I would have been voiceless and I would not be where I am today, this is what I want to change. This is what motivated me to become an activist. I don’t want any girl to go through this at that age.

The secret is education, let your daughter go to school, let them get educated, doors will open for them. Education will give them the power they need. If I had not had that opportunity to learn, I would not be where I am today.

As a mother of two daughters, I am now working and trying to create a better place for my daughters and girls like them to reach their full potential. I don’t want them to take the same route as the generations that came before them.

Luckily, my parents are educated. They know the importance of education. We are a family of six girls and all of us went to school and university. It is down to my mother who put our education first. Her moto was: “we can go hungry, but we should not let any of our daughters to miss out on education because that is their future.” That is why I am the woman I am today. That is why education is the cornerstone to addressing the current problem. But many girls are not lucky like me. That’s why we have to do more for them to get a better future.

To change the trajectory, girls must be educated and the people who hold the positions of power should include the women who are impacted by these problems.  With their voice and participation, Somalia can realize a better tomorrow.