According to a recent study carried out by Transparency International, Somalia was deemed to be the most corrupt nation in the world. The economic and political instability of Somalia has made it the site of many human rights violations, particularly against women. Females are underrepresented in the workforce as well as education. In fact, slightly over 1/3 of the students at the primary school level are girls, and very little progress has been made in this regard.
I had the images of perpetual civil war, insurgent groups, and turmoil on my mind when I was on my way to meet Marian Zeila, a 25 year old Somalian woman that started an organization called Somali Media Women’s Association (SOMWA). In the face of such uncertainty, Zeila is part of a generation of Somalian women trying to promote gender equality and improve the position of women.
As a 21-year-old woman in Baidoa, Zeila established the organization in an effort to increase the presence of women in Somali media. Their work is not limited to the media: their goal is also to increase the role of women in decision-making roles, as well as capacity building. SOMWA is a part of demonstrating a need to prioritize gender equality within Somalia. They have held training workshops and have worked with local religious leaders to change cultural perspectives about women working, and being more visible in the media.
Now 25 and living in London, Zeila was able to have a conversation with me about her plans for herself, and her work with SOMWA. While political unrest has made things difficult for many women’s organizations in Somalia, Zeila continues her work from abroad.
Marian Zeila: At home, I worked with local radio. Women face problems in the media, and we wanted to build capacity, increase the skills and rights of women. We implemented workshops in order to empower women to go forth and work in the media. We also published a magazine called, “Voice of Women.”
MMW: What are some of the challenges that SOMWA has faced?
MZ: In some regions, women are not allowed to work, and our offices have moved from my hometown of Baidoa to the capital, Mogadishu. We are still conducting workshops, but some of the political unrest makes it difficult.
MMW: Does SOMWA do work outside of the media?
MZ: We used to work against violence against women, with a network based in Uganda called the TBV network. We would send reports, publish documents, and conduct research. SOMWA is the most active women’s organisation in Somalia right now.
MMW: What is the relationship of SOMWA with the Muslim community?
MZ: SOMWA has a good relationship with some religious leaders. SOMWA invites them to speak on panels or on the radio.
MMW: What are your plans for SOMWA in the future?
MZ: We are working on the website, and creating more efforts, as well as engaging more on the international level. As time goes on, we want to work on increasing the presence of women in politics, and increasing the role of women in the decision making process.