Former school dropout Agnes found her way back from selling fish to prosper in her classroom

Former school dropout Agnes found her way back from selling fish to prosper in her classroom

To compensate the lost years of young school dropouts, FCA implements the Accelerated Education Programme in five refugee-hosting districts in Uganda.

A woman standing in front of a window holding a notebook.
Agnes Kairangwa has returned to school with the support from Finn Church Aid. Accelerated Education Programme is funded by The Humanitarian Aid department of the European Commission (ECHO). Photo: Evelyne Nabasa / Finn Church Aid

AGNES KAIRANGWA, 20, was in senior two at Bujubuli secondary school in Kyaka II refugee settlement when she became pregnant.

“The father of my baby convinced me to drop out of school and become his wife. However, a year into the marriage, everything turned bitter as my husband started to mistreat me,” Agnes now says.

“It got to a point when I couldn’t stand it anymore, so I left the marriage and returned to my father’s home. I started selling silver fish in the market to get money to take care of my baby.”

Born in a family of five, Agnes Kairangwa is the youngest child of a single parent household. Two of her elder siblings have already completed Secondary Education. The rest of her brothers and sisters are still in school.

Seven years have passed since Agnes dropped the school and she is now a mother of two. Listening to her siblings talk about their classes and what they have learned in school has made Agnes feel left out.

“Even though deep down I felt I wanted to go back to school, I knew it was impossible as I had spent many years out of class, and I felt I was too old to return to school.

One afternoon, while Agnes was at her market stall, she heard a radio announcement from Finn Church Aid (FCA) calling and encouraging adolescent mothers to return to school.

“They stressed the importance of education and I felt encouraged to return to school,” she tells.

Unfortunately, she couldn’t afford to pay fees for herself. She had just enrolled her young daughter in school and all the money from her business was going to be spent in the child’s scholastic fees and other needs.

Finally, with support from FCA, Agnes was enrolled at Bukere Secondary School. FCA staff members also visited Agnes’ father and encouraged him to support her education.

Accelerated Education project supports those who have lost years of school

There are many young women like Agnes Kairangwa. To speed up the learning after years spent out of school, FCA implements the Accelerated Education Programme (AEP) in five refugee-hosting districts of Kyegegwa, Kikuube, Isingiro in South Western Uganda and Terego and Madi Okollo in West Nile. The programme is funded by European Union Humanitarian aid (ECHO).

The programme is an integral part of the Innovative and Inclusive Accelerated Education project (INCLUDE) and it uses specially designed and condensed version of the Ugandan curriculum. By covering two to three grades of primary education in one year and using teaching methods appropriate for different age groups, learners who have lost many school years can transit into the formal schooling system.

“Sometimes I would dodge school”

Going back to school is not easy.

“During the first weeks at school, I found it challenging and wanted to drop out, but officers from Finn Church Aid kept encouraging me to stay in school,” says Agnes.

“Considering the years spent out of school, I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to catch up. I was also afraid my schoolmates would body shame me as I had gained weight and I was older than them,” she says.

Adding to her agony in the beginning, Agnes’ ex-husband kept approaching her on her way to school, trying to convince her to drop it and get married again.

 “Sometimes I would dodge school, so I didn’t have to meet him on the way,” she tells.

“I appreciate the Finn Church Aid staff who kept encouraging me and providing me with the moral and psychosocial support.”

Not only is Agnes now studying but performing well in her class. FCA got her a full education scholarship through the UN Refugee Agency, and she is working hard to be an accountant in one day.

Finn Church Aid implements the INCLUDE programme in a consortium of four partners including Save the Children, Norwegian Refugee Council, War Child Holland and Humanity and Inclusion.

Text: Evelyne Nabasa

“This is my decision” – Naciima found her path as an independent business woman

“This is my decision” – Story of an independent business woman inspires others in Somaliland

Naciima found her way to make her dreams come true while attending to FCA’s Technical and Vocational Education Training.

WHAT DOES an independent businesswoman look like?

Naciima, who recently graduated from Technical and Vocational Education Training (TVET) programme, is a perfect example. She lives with her family of eleven in Gacan Libaax in Somaliland. They have a very limited income and her father, though he struggles to pay her school fees, has always encouraged her to find something she is passionate about.

“After deciding to drop out from the university, I put my entire focus on the training that I was getting. It was sensational and the most skillful experience I have ever gotten before,” says Naciima, who joined the Finn Church Aid’s TVET program recently.

She got to know about the course from one of her friends who went to the Horn of Africa Voluntary Youth Committee TVET Center. When deciding to apply, she says she felt at peace.

“My dream has always been to design clothes – coming up with ways to make them look fashionable. It was a dream come true when I found out about the training and I immediately joined without consulting my family. However, afterwards I told them about my decision.” 

“Without the training I would not have become the woman I am today”

Naciima says that she gained skills from the tailoring course, including how to start business and practical tailoring skills. During the training, she was inspired by two things. Firstly, the way to come up with new designs and, secondly, the profits she could be make, especially since tailoring skills are in demand the country.

Naciima has become an advocate for TVET and wants to explain the benefits of it and how it leads to profit making.

“Without the training I would not have become the woman I am today – a business woman, an independent woman, and career-oriented individual.”

After graduating from the program, Naciima and the other graduates, received business start-up grants and equipment that helped her to start a business that could also support her family. Her idea was to start a tailoring shop that produces fresh looks in women’s clothing. She knew that the majority of ladies in Somaliland liked to wear tailored clothes and knowing her market helped her come up with her designs.

High hopes for the future

Within the first three months, the business was booming and made a decent profit. She hopes that in future she can support her family even more. At the moment she supports family in other ways than just financially – she makes clothes for her younger siblings. Some of her earning go into servicing her machines but her support for her family motivates her siblings and helps them to believe that they too can start a business and support the family in future.

Naciima is optimistic about the future and dreams of hiring more people for her business to meet the growing demand. This woman, who had waited to be supported by her family, has now become the one who supports them.

“I am able to save the money; average $100–150 in month,” she says. This is what a successful businesswoman looks.

This project is funded by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland (MFA)

Text and photos: Mohamed Dugoow

Gender-based violence matters to everyone

Gender-based violence matters to everyone

Types and causes of gender-based violence are sometimes difficult to identify. Sexual violence is only one form of gender-based violence.

ONE IN THREE women in the world has experienced some form of violence simply because she is a woman. Violence can include anything from violation of physical integrity, beatings and hair tearing to sexual assault or psychological acts of violence. Girls who cannot go to school because of their gender are also victims of gender-based violence.

With the internet, and especially with the smartphones everyone now carries around, harassment, psychological violence and the threat of physical violence are present everywhere, including at home. Then again, home has never been a safe place for girls and women. Not even in Finland, where one in three women has experienced intimate partner violence.

There are so many forms of gender-based violence that it may be difficult to define it as a particular type of activity. Violence can be expressed through a clear act, such as genital mutilation, beating or rape. But sometimes violence is more difficult to define and finding words for it may not be easy. This is often the case with coercion associated with intimate partner violence or with financial control exerted by a spouse.

How do we know it’s gender-based violence?

What is gender-based violence? One of the definitions is that the violence committed differs in form, prevalence or consequences by gender. Experiences of violence usually differ between the genders, especially in terms of the setting and the perpetrator.

Men are more commonly than women subjected to violence in public places, while women experience violence at home and in the workplace. A minority of victims of intimate partner violence are men. Girls and women also experience sexual violence and harassment more often than men.

Most typically, the perpetrator is a man, and most of the victims are women. This is nearly always the case. However, statistics show that gender-based violence not only affects women, but also those who belong to sexual minorities. In fact, as gender-based violence is deeply rooted in gender inequality, it is one of the most common human rights violations committed anywhere in the world.

What does Finn Church Aid do to prevent violence against women?

Finn Church Aid works to ensure that every person can lead a dignified life. We support the most vulnerable people. Our actions are guided by equality, non-discrimination and accountability, and we work to ensure that right to education, peace and livelihood is realised for all people.

While we are not specifically focused on protecting the rights of girls and women or combatting gender-based violence, realising equality and human rights and addressing the vulnerabilities of genders and minorities are closely related to our work. We are committed to the UN Sustainable Development Goal 5, which obliges us to address equality issues in our work and strengthen the rights and opportunities of women and girls.

In practice, we work to improve the educational opportunities, livelihoods, entrepreneurship and political participation of girls and women. We are committed to the identification and prevention of sexual and gender-based violence, child marriage and unequal balance of power between genders.

Our efforts to advance the education and livelihoods of girls and women also strengthen their position in their own communities. When women gain an education, find an occupation and become decision-makers, it is easier for them to have influence over their own lives. This, in turn, reduces discrimination and increases human dignity in those communities where girls and women have traditionally been in a weaker position.

Unfortunately, such changes in society’s balance of power also raise objections, which may turn into violence against women and girls. Crises, conflicts and natural disasters also pose a risk to the positive development of equality and can increase the threat of violence. For these reasons, we must pay special attention to the safety of women when delivering humanitarian assistance.

Covid-19 has increased the threat of violence

The prolonged pandemic has had a negative impact on the safety of girls and women. In Nepal, an increase in the number of child marriages and violence against girls and women has been observed.

Already in the first year of the pandemic, Unesco, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, expressed concern that up to 11 million girls may not return to their studies when schools reopen, particularly in the African countries. The pandemic has also increased the occurrence of domestic violence, the use of child labour and the risk of sexual violence.

In its development cooperation, Finn Church Aid seeks to improve the security and equality of girls and women, for example by educating teachers, supporting the voice of women in peacebuilding and political decision-making and promoting the education of refugee women.

How can we combat gender-based violence?

The aim of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action is to advance the equal realisation of human rights for women. The 1979 UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women has been signed by 187 states.

The Convention contains provisions on aspects such as citizenship, education, participation in working life, healthcare and women’s economic rights. Their realisation is monitored by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which can also make general recommendations. Of these, Recommendation No 19, adopted in 2002 and updated in 2017 by Recommendation No 35, for the first time included measures to eliminate violence against women.

In Europe, one of the most significant attempts to end gender-based violence is the 2011 Istanbul Convention, which entered into force in Finland in August 2015. The aim of the convention is to prevent and eliminate violence against women, protect victims of violence and hold perpetrators of violence accountable for their actions.

However, international conventions alone will not eliminate sexual, and gender-based violence. Creating safer communities requires action that cannot be left to decision-makers and states.
The key is to identify gender-based violence, listen to victims and recognise their experiences, and increase the provision of information for all parties involved. Gender-based violence is everyone’s concern.

Text: Elisa Rimaila
Illustration: Carla Ladau
Translation: Päivi Creber

Knowledge Management Central in Advancing Inclusive Local Governance in Somalia

Knowledge Management Central in Advancing Inclusive Local Governance in Somalia

A group of people posing on a lawn.

For years, FCA has worked with its partners systematically and successfully to involve women, youth and marginalised groups in decision-making. Sharing knowledge and learning from others is central to this work.

Successful district council formation is a key milestone in building inclusive local governance structures and systems. Since 2017, four district councils have been successfully formed with active and inclusive participation of the community including women, youth and marginalized groups, with the efforts and support by FCA and its partners. The four areas include Berdale and Hudur of South West, Afmadow of Jubaland and South Galkacyo of Galmudug.

In June, FCA engaged partners, federal and local government officials and key actors to reflect on the overall progress, achievements, challenges, lessons learned and remaining priorities in inclusive local governance in Somalia.

Active dialogue and knowledge management in a recent workshop

The workshop, held in Mogadishu on 21-22 June 2021, brought together more than 45 key figures in local governance. The aim was to promote collective reflection and knowledge management and to address remaining priorities in the work towards inclusive governance particularly in the district council formation processes and the promotion of women’s political participation in Somalia.

Mr. Mustafa Adaf, the Director-General of the Ministry of Interior Affairs and Local Governance of South West State of Somalia, briefly highlighted the success stories, challenges and lessons learnt from the established district councils in South West State.

“So far four district councils have been formed in South West State with strong representation of women in the elected councils including ten women out of 21 elected council members in Diinsor, five women out of 21 in Waajid, and two out of 21 in Berdale, while Hudur has zero women representation in the district council,” Mustafa said.

FCA has been implementing various programmes promoting inclusive local governance through district council formation (DCF) and increasing women’s political participation since 2016, with the support of the EU delegation to Somalia, USAID/TIS+ and the Somalia Stability Fund.

Learning from experience

Officials from the Ministries of Interior, Federal Affairs and Reconciliation (MOIFAR) at the federal and state levels across Somalia, district administrations and councils, elders, women’s groups and networks and key stabilisation actors were actively participating in the lively discussions. The participants identified and discussed the results and successes of FCA and its partners’ interventions and contribution to promoting inclusive local governance and gender equality and the social inclusion of women, youth and marginalised groups.

The participants of the workshop also explored lessons on what has and not worked in past and ongoing interventions to foster learnings for the benefit of the other districts that are currently undertaking the district council formation in accordance with the Wadajir National Framework for Local Governance. In addition, the workshop also charted the way forward in addressing remaining priorities for effective, future programming.

The workshop’s outcomes will be collated and a publication will be compiled for internal and external knowledge management. The document will be distributed among the numerous actors working to support state-building processes in Somalia.

Advancing women’s participation

Not only is successful district council formation a historic milestone in promoting democratic process and inclusive local governance, but also in terms of women’s political participation. This is the first time in the history of South West State for women to achieve such a representation among elected council members.

“One of the lessons we learned in the previous council formations such as in Berdale and Hudur in 2017 was the need to emphasise the importance of the role of women. From such experiences, we started discussing a quota system for women’s participation in the DCF process in other districts. Once we secured that women can have meaningful participation, we proceeded with the process. So, in a nutshell, women participation can only be achieved, if the government and actors collaboratively engage the community to campaign for women in the process,” Mr. Adaf draws together lessons learned.

Text: Mohamed Dugoow and Leakhena Sieng

FCA contributing to profound shift in women’s political participation in Somalia

FCA contributing to profound shift in women’s political participation in Somalia

FCA’s persistent work has led to a significant increase in women’s political participation in Somalia and contributed to a change in local decision-making.

Two of Finn Church Aid’s (FCA) projects in Somalia have helped to move the country towards sustainable peace by advancing gender equality and increasing women’s political participation. FCA has strengthened women’s capacities, increased their opportunities for civic participation, and helped to build fair and equal governance bodies at different levels through trainings, discussions and multi-level advocacy.

“FCA’s team in Somalia works in a challenging environment but on the other hand, the timing of this intervention has fitted well into the state building process following the civil war,” Programme Manager Bashir Fidow from FCA Somalia office tells.

Somalia is one of the most unequal countries towards women due to cultural beliefs and institutional bias and discrimination. Many people still believe that women belong at home and do not have a place in the informal or formal decision making structures. Traditional practices and customary laws are often applied instead of state judiciary. Historically the representation of women in politics is very low.

FCA’s work to increase women’s involvement in politics and in the society

Within the Gender Equality and Social Inclusion (GESI) project framework, there have been numerous trainings, citizen interface dialogues, debates, and meetings. FCA Somalia team with their partners Centre for Research and Development (CRD) and Ministry of Women and Human Right Development (MoWHRD) have advocated for women’s participation in politics. These platforms provided by the projects have offered women an important channel to be heard but also to learn from each other. The results have been encouraging as hundreds of women have participated in trainings about their rights and the social and civic responsibility of active citizens and elected leaders which has given them the confidence and the skills to participate in decision-making processes.

FCA has advanced inclusive district council formation, including the quota of at least 30 % women in the newly formed district councils. The project has contributed to significant political developments. FCA led the consortium that supported the establishment of four district councils in Berdale and Hudur of SWS in 2018, and Afmadow in Jubaland and Galkacyo in Galmudug in late 2020 with inclusive participation of women and youth. Two women were elected as council members in Berdale, five in Galkacyo and another two in Afmadow. A National Gender Policy was developed for the South West State. In the local elections in the South West State, the number of women’s seats saw a significant increase. There are currently 16 female parliamentarians and a female deputy speaker in the SWS Assembly.

FCA Somalia has implemented several projects in Somalia to promote inclusive governance and women’s political participation. ‘Gender Equality and Social Inclusion’ (GESI) worked in Baidoa, Hudur and Berdale Districts of the South West State (SWS) and was funded by the Somalia Stability Fund (SSF).

‘Strengthening local governance structures and systems for more accountable and inclusive Federal Member States in support of the Wadajir National Framework’ Phase II’ targeted the district council formation through democratic process in the SWS, Hirshabelle, Jubaland and Galmudug, and was funded by the EU. The goal of Strengthening Local Governance project was to bring inclusiveness to District Council formation and have a 30 % quota for women.

FCA has worked in Somalia since 2008 and advanced sustainable peace from the beginning. The country programme operates in four states, South West State, Hirshabelle, Galmudug and Jubaland, and has been active during the time when the federalism and decentralisation efforts have been taking place. FCA has operations also in Mogadishu and Somaliland.

Advocacy on multiple levels of society

“A key element in these projects has been the multi-level strategic advocacy,” says Business Development Manager Leakhena Sieng from FCA Somalia.

The projects’ partners have been essential for effective advocacy. The MoWHRD has supported FCA in building networks and organised meetings and platforms for women and the political gatekeepers to meet, discuss and make decisions.

“FCA’s interventions engaged people on the local level, clan leaders as well as ordinary families,” tells Abdulwahab Osman, acting Local Governance Project Manager at FCA Somalia. “The projects have harnessed networks of women to advocate with traditional and religious leaders about the importance of women’s participation. There have been numerous occasions, workshops and discussions, where the importance of women’s engagement has been debated.”

The GESI project worked with clan elders so that they support and indeed enable women’s active political participation. Somalia’s governance system is heavily influenced by the clan-based social structure and without the support of clan elders, women’s inclusion and leadership is difficult. FCA identified traditional and local leaders as important change agents early on. When the local leaders are convinced about the need to have women in positions of power, in Somalia that is a major advantage, in relation to local communities as well as political leaders.

It has been important to challenge the traditional structures and roles that have prevented women from participating actively in the society. Women have been discouraged from education and girls have been denied their right to learn. The women that FCA has trained have visited villages and spoken to women themselves as well as their families to show how women can take an active role and why they should do it.

“One central goal has been to increase overall public awareness and now 56 per cent of the project’s beneficiaries say that they are able to influence decisions in their community,” tells Leakhena Sieng.

Two women holding their hands on a book on the table.

Women supporting and helping each other

FCA wanted to provide aspiring women the tools and the confidence that they need to participate actively in politics. The BAY Women Association Network (BAYWAN) has been key to this process. The network was established by the 207 trained women by FCA and CRD with the purpose to provide a supporting circle for women from all backgrounds and age groups to come together and exchange views and experiences.

The BAYWAN has contributed to change in various levels of society. They have been a great asset to the GESI project in arguing for and advocating women’s active participation in society and girls’ education and equal rights.

“FCA selected 150 young women from universities’ political sciences department to participate in trainings and discussions, with the aim of preparing future leaders, helping them to form networks, giving them confidence to speak out and providing them with a platform for discussions and dialogues with their peers and mentors,” Mr Fidow says.

Well-dressed women and men sitting in rows.

FCA brought together the young aspiring women and female politicians to inspire the younger generation. The Ministry of Women offered internships and volunteer opportunities for university students. What these women with FCA and its partners have done locally in the South West State has been so successful and inspirational that these good practises have spread and have been adopted in different districts in Somalia.

Profound change towards sustainable peace is possible

FCA’s efforts in Somalia to increase women’s political participation and gender equality has overall been a great success. FCA has helped to bring together the media and key decision-maker and people of power. Because of the publicity that the increase of the number of women in politics has received in the media, especially in Galkacyo, Afmadow and Diinsoor, where a number of women have been elected as council members, this has become a mainstream issue, Mr Fidow says.

FCA’s projects have had a huge impact. More than 700 women and numerous clan and religious leaders have been trained as leaders and agents of change for gender equality and women’s empowerment. The number of women in politics has increased and the enthusiasm of young women at universities shows that this trend is likely to continue.

“Now we are ahead of the other federal states in terms of women’s political participation. I urge other states to be like SWS and provide women political space,” says Faduma Ali Ahmed, MP in the SWS District Assembly.

The UN Sustainable Development Goal number five states that ‘gender equality is not only a fundamental human right, but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world’ and this is very important in a country like Somalia that has been suffering from civil war and violent extremism for decades.

Goal 16, ‘promoting peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, providing access to justice for all and building effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels’ is intimately tied to FCA’s work in Somalia. The results of FCA’s projects show that great steps have been taken in Somalia towards this goal.

Written by: Nora Luoma

Photos: Abdulwahab Osman

Fighting period poverty leads to a future of confident and educated women

Fighting period poverty leads to a future of confident and educated women

Monthly sanitary pad distributions at school prevent girls from missing classes or dropping out completely. Education about menstruation increases self-esteem.

When her monthly period comes, 16-year-old Michelina tears a pillow and picks out pieces of its worn stuffing – an old cloth rug that she uses in place of the sanitary pad she cannot afford. That is just the tip of the iceberg. The worst part is that Michelina, who lives in Kalobeyei refugee settlement, cannot talk to anyone about her periods.

Despite being a normal biological process, menstruation remains taboo. Many girls stay home from school during their periods, leaving them behind in their education. In class, girls say that their concern about leakages makes it harder for them to concentrate in class or dissuade them from participating in the first place. Even with sanitary pads or towels, Michelina says that finding a bathroom is an issue.

“Without safe, private places for cleaning and changing during our periods, we continue to struggle despite the supplies”, she says.

Working against period poverty is an integral part of Finn Church Aid’s (FCA) education support in the refugee settlements Kakuma and Kalobeyei. Distributions of sanitary pads have reached 5,000 adolescent girls since last year. Project officer Catherine Angwenyi says the program has supported girls in several other ways too.

Catherine Angewenyi from FCA distributing sanitary pads at Kalobeyei refugee settlement.
Catherine Angewenyi (in the middle) from FCA distributing sanitary pads at Kalobeyei refugee settlement. Photo: Loduye Ghaisen

FCA’s sanitary pads distribution couples with sexual and reproductive health education, and the program has reduced school absenteeism among the girls.

“When parents do not take the time to talk to their girls on menstrual hygiene, the only way girls get information and support is through education programs that distribute pads,” Angweny explains.

Monthly sanitary pad distributions prevent girls from dropping out and keep them from asking for pads from men that can take advantage of them. When girls go to school, they are less likely to become pregnant or, for instance, get an HIV infection.

Angwenyi believes that by doing everything for girls to stay in school, we are heading to a future of fewer teenage pregnancies and more educated and confident women.

“When you educate a girl, you change the world,” she says.

Sanitary pad distributions are an integral part of FCA Kenya’s education program.

Nkurunziza, 16, says that learning about menstruation and hygiene practices has changed her attitude: she no longer stays home from school during her periods.

“Having pads increases my confidence and helps me focus on my studies, and I can even excel in exams”, she says.

Text: Elizabeth Oriedi
Photos: Loduye Ghaisen

Bidibidi refugee settlement in Uganda

Periods interfere with the education of girls

Millions of girls and women living in refugee camps urgently need feminine hygiene products, clean water and functioning door locks.

Women are at the front line of peace work – but why are all peace negotiators men?

You cannot build lasting peace without women. Many have probably heard this claim before, but why does gender matter?

Conflicts and crises affect entire societies, and we also know that women and men are affected differently. Even so, we rarely see women at the tables where decisions regarding our shared future are made. The Syrian peace talks started in 2012 without a single female participant, and on average, only 13 per cent of the world’s peace negotiators were women between 1992 and 2019.

A high-level peace negotiation around a luxurious mahogany table is perhaps the best-known setting associated with peace work, but it is not the only one. Less attention is paid to women’s grassroots-level accomplishments to prevent and solve conflicts in their communities.

In South Sudan, the world’s youngest country, millions of people have been displaced by conflict, food crises and a collapsed economy. In addition to political disputes, conflicts are sparked on the community level by violent cattle raids, committed not only in hopes of livelihood but also as part of a coming-of-age rite for boys. The raids lead to violent cycles of revenge between and within communities.

Finn Church Aid has supported setting up peace committees for women and youth in the states of Boma and Jonglei, and the persistent effort of the women’s committees has led to a clear decrease in violence. It has also changed views on community leadership. The leaders have traditionally been men, but now, women are the first to be called to negotiate peace and prevent the escalation of conflicts.

The persistent effort of the women’s committees has led to a clear decrease in violence.

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought changes to peacebuilding. Discussions at high-end conference rooms or in a tree’s shade are on hold as face-to-face meetings are no longer an option. The pandemic is also feared to make the root causes of conflicts worse and deepen the inequity faced by women.

In Kenya, cases of female genital mutilation have increased. Covid-19 has weakened the financial situation of families and forced schools to close, and as a result, parents are anxious to marry their daughters off earlier than usual. But the women in Kenya have not been idle. The women’s peace committees FCA supports have mobilised influencers and decision-makers to join the fight against genital mutilation and continue their work of settling conflicts between and within communities via radio. At the same time, the women provide support and information regarding Covid-19.

Imagine again the luxurious conference hall where a peace treaty is being signed. That treaty is bound to be built on a shaky foundation if those around the mahogany table are just representatives of armed actors and the political elite (out of whom, of course, a good number ought to be women as well).

The Covid-19 crisis is a reminder of the role and influence of female actors: these women’s peace movements in the midst of and as parts of communities are on the front line responding to any type of crisis – whether an armed conflict or a global pandemic.

Paula Tarvainen
Senior Advisor, Right to Peace

Why is the world unfair to women? Ten reasons and one response

1. INVISIBLE WORK. All women work but do not necessarily earn a salary. Traditionally, only productive work is categorised as a job and all other work, such as that in households or outside the formal economy, remains invisible and therefore unpaid. Women are doing 75 per cent of all unpaid work worldwide and do it for three to six hours per day. Much of the invisible work is within homes, taking care of children, the sick and the elderly.

More than 130 million girls aged 6–17 do not go to school. A girls’ education can also be disrupted if her family needs her to support their daily life through household work or paid jobs. Menstruation or marriage can also put an end to a girls’ education.

leads to discrimination. In Nepal, for instance, families and the community restrict women’s movement and participation in activities during menstruation. In Myanmar’s Rohingya communities, women are traditionally not allowed to interact with other boys and men than their own family’s after they started menstruating. Many girls face the risk of early marriage after they have had their first period.

The lack of sanitary pads causes multiple challenges. For instance, in refugee settlements, quality pads are hardly available or sold at a very high price. If the sanitary pads do not exist or cannot be changed safely in school, girls might be forced to stay home during their periods. Repeated absence from school might cause girls to drop out.

are part of everyone’s daily life, but many women have to search for a safe lavatory every day. According to the UN, every third of the world’s women cannot access a safe bathroom facility where they can also wash during menstruation. Women need a door that can be locked not only because of privacy and dignity but because bathroom facilities put women at risk for abuse and sexual violence.

Traditional roles and models weaken the position of women in the job market. Their invisible work as caretakers of families creates further challenges for the women to find time for paid work. Research shows that public support for daycare services increases the number of women doing paid work. A woman with a job and salary has a better chance of impacting her own life and the surrounding society.

is a severe violation of human rights and a far too common practice. Women are not safe even in their own homes – every third of the world’s women report having experienced violence in a close relationship. An estimated 38 per cent of all murdered women were killed by their spouses.

worsen the situation of those in the most fragile positions even further – conflict and war increase domestic and gender-based violence. Violence against women has reportedly soared in several countries during the lockdowns caused by the coronavirus, including the countries where Finn Church Aid operates. Due to Covid-19 restrictions and the pandemic’s burden on healthcare, women are struggling to access services related to sexuality and reproduction, and this might result in a rise in, for instance, unwanted pregnancies.

Men form a majority in decision-making positions worldwide. Research shows that women are more likely to consider women-related issues, family politics, education and care services when they are in a leadership position. Thus, leaving women outside decision-making significantly affects these areas of life. The influence of women is also undermined by them not being part of the informal, male-dominated networks that might have an unexpected impact on society.

While women per se are in an unfavourable position, the women with additional disadvantages caused by disabilities, age, poverty or sexual orientation face even greater challenges. In emergencies, such as natural disasters and conflicts, women with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to discrimination and violence and struggle to access support. Elderly and poor women and those with disabilities are dependent on the support of others, which makes them vulnerable to abuse.

includes and promotes gender equality in all its operations. FCA and the Women’s Bank work for women’s rights by supporting women’s education and livelihoods in fragile countries. Livelihood activities offer training in entrepreneurship, marketing and managing finances. Creating cooperatives and savings groups are central to the projects, and the cooperatives support their members’ business activities.

The livelihood projects also strengthen women’s rights in other ways. Participating in cooperatives and their management builds confidence and experience that support women in becoming involved in broader decision-making structures. The cooperatives also offer interventions and solutions to issues, such as domestic violence and other forms of gender-based violence.

The education of girls is one of the most efficient ways of securing sustainable development. Educated women are more likely to send their children to school, and education is the key to sustaining oneself and live an independent life.

Caroline Criado Perez (2019): Invisible Women, World Health Organisation, Plan International

Text: Noora Pohjanheimo
Illustration: Carla Ladau

Women taking the lead in ending the conflict in Kenya’s Kerio Valley

The Northern Kenya Integrated Development project trains women in peacebuilding. Milka Rutonye explains how the women brought two conflicting communities together.

Three years ago, Milka Rutonye had had enough. The mother of seven children grew up in Kenya’s Pokot area but married a man from the neighbouring Marakwet. Milka could no longer bear with the impact of conflicts between the two communities.

Political incitement, livestock theft and a scramble for water between the Pokot and Marakwet led to shootings, violence against women and disruptions in the children’s education. Milka was determined to leave her husband’s home, leaving her children behind, and return to her family in Pokot just to run away from the gunshots.

“I always felt terrible when the Pokot ­– my people – came to Marakwet and caused chaos,” she says. “They forget that their children, sisters and nieces are married to the Marakwet.”

In 2018, Milka spoke with bitterness and complained of the area’s insecurity and its impact on her life. She began taking part in talking circles for women from both of the conflicting communities. Through the platform created by Finn Church Aid (FCA), the 57 women found a common cause and took it upon themselves to change the narrative of insecurity in the Kerio Valley.

The talking circles connect women from the neighbouring communities of Elgeyo Marakwet and West Pokot. Issues, such as water scarcity and cattle theft, have sparked violence in this area of Kenya.

The talking circles connect women from the neighbouring communities of Elgeyo Marakwet and West Pokot. Issues, such as water scarcity and cattle theft, have sparked violence in this area of Kenya.

Training gave birth to peacebuilding initiatives

Milka Rutonye has participated in women’s talking circles since 2018.

The group calls itself Endo Chamkalya. It encourages women to be resilient in all aspects of life and actively create a just, peaceful, and equal society through formal and informal structures. Ahead of the International Women’s Day on March 8, 2021, Milka speaks from inspiration.

“I was touched to see that FCA, coming from outside our communities, was concerned about our well-being. The talking circles have opened our eyes to the causes of our conflict”, she says.

“Water scarcity contributed to the fighting because we wanted to ensure that our livestock gets food. The training has built our capacity to hear and understand each other.”

The Northern Kenya Integrated Development project arranges training in peacebuilding. The training gave birth to various initiatives that the women undertook to restore peace.

Milka recalls a significant event in 2018; a protest against violence. During a border conflict between Elgeyo Marakwet and West Pokot, the Endo women crossed over to the Pokot side when the conflict had practically restricted all movement across the border. They prayed for peace.

“We had mobilized the Pokot women that are married to Marakwet and decided that we will seek peace by all means. Our only way was to seek an audience with the Pokot,” she says.

The women of Marakwet and Pokot gathering in prayers for peace.

The women of Marakwet and Pokot gathering in prayers for peace.

Women from the Pokot community met the women that Milka’s group had gathered. The women from the talking circle ended up meeting with 35 village elders of West Pokot. In two mediation meetings, the women spoke out about how they wanted their children to go to school without interruption, their animals to graze freely, and enjoy peace like any other part of Kenya.

Peacebuilding may start with as simple things as learning to express oneself to the other person.  Milka says that the Pokot elders did not know that they were attacking their blood relatives, those that were married to the Marakwet. They regretted it, and some of them even cried.

More importantly, according to Milka, the story shows that anyone can find a moment like this and connect to it – and eventually, become a peacebuilder.

“We were able to influence the village elders of both Pokot and Marakwet to come together and discuss.”

Clearing the road improved livelihood opportunities

Since the peace negotiation led by the FCA talking circle, the situation between the two communities and the entire Kerio Valley has improved.

Benedicta, a moderator in Milka’s women’s talking circle, says that youth from both Pokot and Marakwet joined in clearing the nine-kilometre-long road connecting the two communities. The thick bush had provided hideouts for armed robbers, and there were also other physical obstacles that restricted movement. In the past, Benedicta witnessed two pregnant women die due to the impassable road.

“They were on their way to the district hospital, which is two hours away in normal conditions. The peace engagements have kept the road safe. Now, no one will die because of the road,” she says

Marakwet and Pokot youth clearing the bush along the road connecting the two communities in Northern Kenya.

Marakwet and Pokot youth clearing the bush along the road connecting the two communities in Northern Kenya.

This road led to the opening of the Lodio market, an important centre for the communities’ livelihoods, and eased access to the health centre. According to Benedicta, it paved the way for people to trade and improve their living standard.

When Covid-19 restricted gatherings in the Kerio Valley, the women groups found creative ways to arrange peace meetings. Peace talks continued during the lockdown on radio channels, such as North Rift FM and Upendo FM Eldoret, with a substantial contribution from the women.

“The talking circles have empowered us women, and we are now committed to advocating for human rights and lead herders and the entire community to disarmament, development, livelihood and gender equality,” Milka adds.

Text: Elizabeth Oriedi
Photos: Aziza Maalim

District council formation in Galkayo, Somalia completed with improved representation of youth and women

The district formation process is implemented under the European Union (EU) funded project that aims to strengthen local governance structures. The inclusion of women and youth was essential in empowering the district council’s decision-making process.

South Galkayo district in Somalia reached a significant milestone on 24th of October by electing its mayor and his deputy.

Abdirahman Sheikh Hassan Jimale and Mohamed Abdi Elmi were elected as mayor and deputy mayor of the district respectively for the coming four years in a fair and inclusive process that saw 5 women and 17 youth elected in the newly formed district council. The successful process, funded by the European Union as part of its support to local governance structures, advances the government’s decentralization plan as well as the Wadajir National Framework on Local Governance.

The event was attended by Galmudug’s Minister of Interior and local government Mr Abdi Mohamed Jamac (Abdi Wayel), other state ministers and deputy ministers, members of parliament from the state, and various community stakeholders such as elders, youth and women groups.

Speaking at the event, the state’s assistant minister Ahmed Hassan Ali reminded the newly elected council members that they have an enormous task ahead in ensuring that the district gets access to services that it did not have before.

“The newly elected mayor and his deputy have to ensure the district is united under a noble cause by not forgetting that you will be held accountable after your four-year tenure comes to an end”, he said.

The Delegation of the European Union to Somalia congratulated the new local leaders and expressed its conviction that local reconciliation efforts are the basis for stability and prosperity in Somalia.

Women and youth active participants in the election

For the past five months, significant foundations were laid down in promoting a democratic and inclusive process. The process was highlighted by the increase in dialogues and interface mechanisms between state and non-state actors and among different community groups. Youth and women groups participated actively, and the top leadership of the state’s government showed strong commitment throughout the process.

Even though the elected council members fell short of the desired 30 per cent quorum for women representation, it is greater than before. Five of the 27 council members are women, which translates into a 19 per cent representation of women. Similarly, the process saw a significant increase in youth representation with 17 youth being elected, which translates to a 63 per cent representation. The inclusion of women and youth was essential in empowering the district council’s decision-making process.

The formation of the district council in Galkayo is taking place under the local governance law approved by the Galmudug authority in January 2018. The principle of the devolution of powers is enshrined in chapter five of Somalia’s provisional federal constitution of 2012.

The district formation process is funded by the European Union (EU) through a project that aims to strengthen local governance structures for more accountable and inclusive federal member states in support of the Wadajir National Framework. It is implemented by FCA and its two consortium members, CRD and EISA, in close partnership with the Ministries of Interior and Local Government of Galmudug and other federal member states across Somalia.