30 Somali women and girls are training in web and mobile development thanks to partnership between FCA and iRise innovation hub.
MAIDA MOHAMED AHMED is a bright and ambitious woman from Somalia who has always had a passion for finance and technology. She applied for a six month web and mobile development course at Somalia’s first innovation hub, iRise.
The course, funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for Finland, is designed to empower girls and young women in an underrepresented field. The six-month course utilises design thinking skills to unlock the girls’ potential, ultimately empowering them to pursue a career in tech and improve their employment opportunities.
Today Maida is working as a web developer and is proud to be paving the way for other young women like herself to succeed in the tech industry.
This project is part of FCA’s thematic approach to connect learning with earning in their livelihood projects. The initiative is highly significant, particularly in Somalia, where women face numerous hurdles in accessing education and employment opportunities.
Somalia is well poised to develop its digital industries – it is the seventh cheapest place in the world for high-speed internet. By providing women with the skills and expertise to pursue a tech career, this project hopes to reduce the gender gap in the tech industry and improve the quality of living for Somali women.
The first batch of 15 girls have already completed the programme, while the other 15 expect to finish their studies soon.
As the first batch of graduates enters the workforce with their newly acquired skills, we hope to see significant changes in the industry in the gender ratio in Somalia. This program empowers girls to take on more challenging roles, disrupt stereotypes and create a more gender-inclusive workforce.
Text: Fatima Abshir Photos courtesy of Osama Nur Hussien for iRise
Up to one million Kenyan girls miss days of school each month due to menstruation
What would you do if you had to replace your menstrual hygiene products with rags made from old clothes, or if you simply did not own anything that would stop others from noticing the bleeding or odors?
AKIMANA, 18,knows what life is like when menstruation interferes with going to school.
”It’s really stressful to go to school without menstrual hygiene products. I feel so bad, especially when I’m standing in front of the class, if I’ve stained my skirt by accident and my classmates laugh at me,” she says.
Sometimes Akimana skips school because she has no menstrual hygiene products and she feels ashamed to stand out. There are few teenage girls in the world who would not mind going to school while wearing clothes with period blood stains on them.
”Sometimes, when I have no menstrual hygiene products and my classmates find out, they laugh at me and call me dirty. It feels so bad that some girls don’t come to school anymore,” says Mikamsoni, 17.
The classmates’ laughter might seem cruel, but deep down, the problem is actually a lack of education. Roughly every other human being in the world menstruates at some point in their life. At the same time, the topic might be so taboo in the community that periods or the hygiene issues related to them are not talked about, even among mothers and daughters.
”Understanding the menstrual cycle is among the basics of reproductive health, and this information is necessary for both girls and boys. Being open helps combat assumptions such as that periods make girls dirty or weak, or that while menstruating you should refrain from everyday life or even isolate yourself from the rest of the community,” says advocacy expert Merja Färm from Finn Church Aid.
A WHOLE OTHER aspect of periods is the financial side. Disposable menstrual hygiene products may be so expensive that families living in extreme poverty – or about less than 2 euros per day – cannot afford them. In the case of reusable menstrual pads, the problem is that washing the pads is difficult without a proper water supply point.
”If there are no hygiene products available, girls and women use unsuitable and unhygienic rags that are uncomfortable, smelly, and leaky, and at worst may even cause infections,” says Färm.
In a worst-case scenario, girls and women might even resort to using grass, leaves from trees, or sand. Those in a particularly vulnerable position include girls like Latifa and Violeta who live in rural Kenya and in refugee camps.
Finn Church Aid’s fight for girls’ education opportunities includes promoting menstrual hygiene. In our countries of operation, we provide girls with hygiene packages that include menstrual hygiene products, soap, and underpants. Another key part of this work is education regarding good menstrual hygiene that we provide while distributing the hygiene packages. Schools play an important role in this work as well.
”We educate students, teachers, and even the students’ parents on how important it is to enable girls to go to school even during their period,” says Färm.
Being left outside education increases the risk of early marriage and pregnancy, as well as unreasonable amounts of housework. Girls in a particularly difficult position include those who have undergone female genital mutilation and those with a heavy period, Färm emphasises.
After receiving menstrual hygiene packages from her school through the Finn Church Aid project, 16-year-old Micheline from Kenya is happy that she no longer needs to cut up her old clothes to be used as menstrual pads.
”Getting menstrual hygiene products from school has really changed my life. Back when we didn’t get them from school, I had to stay at home during my period, because I was afraid of the shame of getting stains on my school uniform. Now I can go to school regularly, and I feel confident,” says Micheline.
IN KENYA, FCA has distributed menstrual hygiene products to over 5,000 girls through the schools in the Kalobeyei refugee settlement.
In addition, Finn Church Aid has supported schools in its development cooperation projects and during crises by building toilets and water supply points in the school premises. A bathroom door with a lock helps secure privacy, but just building a toilet in the school premises creates security for girls in particular, since they no longer need to look for a place to be away from view. When there are enough water supply points, they can even be used to wash menstrual pads without others watching.
As previously mentioned, about half of the world’s population deals with having a period at some point in their life. It is important not to let something as normal as menstruation stand in the way of girls and women going to school, finding an occupation, earning their own livelihood, and reaching for their dreams.
”Menstruation awareness and hygiene are cost-effective ways to increase girls’ well-being and school enrolment rate, as well as women’s employment and participation in society. In order to rise from poverty, girls and women need to be included as well,” says Merja Färm.
Fly larvae help Nepalese women create innovative sustainable business
FCA and Womens’ Bank BUZZ project in Nepal uses larvae from the Black Soldier Fly as alternative animal feed due to their high protein and fat content, as opposed to traditional feeds. This reduces solid waste by efficiently converting organic waste into animal feeds and organic fertilizer within the cycle of circular economy.
IN THE small village of Bhardeu in Nepal’s Lalitpur district, a building with a corrugated tin roof is abuzz with activity. Women crowd round small plastic trays, which are writhing with small larvae. One woman gently and carefully lifts a handful of the larvae in gloved hands. She doesn’t seem fazed by the wriggling grubs – in fact, these unassuming worm-like animals represent an exciting innovation in the working lives of these women. They’re a chance to turn waste into value.
“It’s such a new concept in Nepal,” says BUZZ project coordinator Nishi Khatun. “In the beginning, the women who saw our prototype larvae farm were a bit doubtful and sometimes frightened. But since training, they’re really confident with handling the larvae and find the process more convenient and beneficial from the farming they’re currently doing.”
With funding from our sister organisation, Women’s Bank, and in partnership with the Federation of Woman Entrepreneurs’ Associations of Nepal (FWEAN), the project aims to provide employment to seven women, who are part of a farming cooperative in the village. All of them face social and economic marginalisation, with limited access to resources, job opportunities and influence within their community
The premise is simple: Black Soldier Fly larvae are raised in a special production facility feeding on organic waste. They then are used as feed for farmed animals and fish. The frass (excretion of larvae/fly) is used as organic fertilizers.
“The organic waste from the household and farming land is reused again and again for the larvae,” says FCA Climate and Environment Sustainability Advisor, Aly Cabrera. “It’s a really good initiative because it reduces land competition between food for human and for animal consumption.”
FCA set up the production facility and provides ongoing training to the women in both the technical skills needed to raise the larvae and the business development skills that will enable them to connect with customers and larger industries. In time, they won’t just be able to maintain their farms, but also sell surplus larvae and frass to others.
That said, it’s a very new concept in Nepal and the benefits of using the larvae are not yet well understood by stakeholders in the agriculture, poultry and fisheries industries.
Other challenges include the delicate nature of the larvae themselves. The grubs are highly sensitive to temperature and humidity and getting the ambient conditions exactly right for them to thrive is crucial.
Despite this, the women in Bhardeu recently celebrated a milestone. The initial insects needed to establish a colony arrived from the western district of Chitwan and they were able to get to work after long months of training. The cooperative issued a statement in celebration:
“We are filled with hope that our dream of economic empowerment through engagement in the Black Soldier Fly business model will finally come true. We envision ourselves becoming successful entrepreneurs.”
The BUZZ project is thanks to a joint FCA and Women’s Bank initiative that develops circular economy projects to increase income opportunities & sustainable agricultural practices in order to improve community resilience.
It’s particularly important to support women in developing countries – but why?
There are still too many women and girls in the world who don’t have the chance to learn to read or count. Without their contribution, half of the population’s potential remains unused.
“CHANGE STARTSwith your family. Then it can spread to your village and the whole community,” says Irene Kiplagat Koskei Rugut,48.
Chief Irene, as she is known in her home village of Barpelo in Baringo, northwest Kenya, has been at the forefront of her community’s fight against female genital mutilation (FGM). It has not been a simple or easy road, but Irene is passionate about her cause.
“It happened to me when I was 15 years old. I know what it’s like to be mutilated and how it affects your life and being a woman,” she says.
Irene did not want the same fate for her daughters or anyone else’s children. It’s not just about health or the effects of mutilation on a woman’s body. In many cases, FGM means the end of a girl’s schooling. Afterward, many girls are not allowed to finish their schooling, which affects their lifelong livelihood prospects.
Educated girls grow up to be women who can learn a trade, rather than having to live on agriculture alone. Now that the village of Barpelo is also severely affected by climate change, a profession other than traditional livestock farming would provide security. When a woman has a profession, she is not dependent on her husband’s or family’s money.
After initial challenges, Irene has won over most of the people of Barpelo. There is hardly any mutilation of girls here anymore. Irene is happy. Her own daughter has a university degree and already has a good job in the local government.
Discrimination against women starts in childhood
Women make up roughly half of the world’s population. Yet women face many forms of gender discrimination and physical threats; at work, in their communities and even at home. Women can rightly be said to be at a disadvantage compared to men in many parts of the world.
In many cases, exclusion and discrimination against women starts to build up in childhood. For example, in some cultures, the education of girl children is seen as a waste of time and money. If parents have to choose whether to send a boy or a girl to school, sometimes culture and antiquated beliefs lead them to prefer the boy. This idea is built on traditions where only men have full rights to decide their own affairs – and often also those of women and girls.
However, putting girls who grow up to be women in an unequal and inferior position ignores the fact that whole families and communities are losing half of their full potential. Development, prosperity and peace cannot be achieved if half of people are excluded from society and its decision-making processes.
The idea of supporting women in particular through development cooperation became stronger in the 1980s. The special status and needs of women and girls is still at the heart of development cooperation work in FCA’s country of origin – Finland. And no wonder, equality has a long tradition in Finnish society. But this has not always been the case.
Equality is the result of progress, it does not come automatically or for free. It is a social innovation, which has brought renewal and prosperity to society through the contributions of both women and men. Finland advocates a global commitment to equality. It wants to redefine the concept and put equality back in the spotlight.
Girls’ education is changing the world
There are still too many women in the world who never had the chance to learn to read or count. Without basic skills, people can miss out on important information about their rights and opportunities to participate in their communities and decision-making. They may be exploited financially and physically. Or they may not know how to seek help for health, financial or social-related problems even if they are entitled to help.
Above all, the lack of access to quality education shackles people to poverty. Millions of people in the world, especially in developing countries, depend on livestock or other forms of agriculture. Their already meagre livelihoods can be severely disrupted by sudden shocks, such as global pandemics like Covid-19 or weather events caused by climate change.
That is why it is important that girls also have access to schooling. With an education, girls become women who know their rights. This will enable them to use the knowledge and skills they have learned in a variety of ways to secure their own and their families’ livelihoods.
Education also protects girls from early marriage and pregnancy. Interrupted schooling, on the other hand, increases the risk of teenage pregnancies and child marriages. This is why FCA supports girls’ education and their return to school, especially in disaster and crisis situations.
Educated women are also more likely to put their own children through school. They keenly understand the importance of those crucial early years in school for their future well-being. So in a way, education is multiplied, especially by educating girls and women.
Peace needs women
The war in Ukraine has shown brutally how rape and sexual violence – mostly, but not exclusively towards women – are very much a part of warfare. But women are not just victims of war. In the context of conflict, women can play an important and leading role in peace processes. Women can work for peace not only at grassroots level, but also in higher levels of government.
In March 2023, the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs published its new Women, Peace and Security Action Plan, which FCA is also committed to implementing. The main objectives of the Action Plan include strengthening women’s meaningful participation and gender perspective in conflict prevention and peace negotiations, the security sector, crisis management and preparedness.
FCA has long supported women’s participation in local governance and peace processes. One example is in Somalia, where decision-making is largely dominated by male-dominated clans. Traditionally, women, youth and marginalised groups are excluded from decision-making processes. Our advocacy work since 2016 has resulted in 16 women being elected as members of five new regional councils. FCA has also provided leadership training to over 700 women leaders.
At the grassroots level, women, especially mothers, have played an important role in peace work. In Kenya’s Kerio Valley, where FCA works for peace, when a woman becomes a mother, she receives a wide leather belt. The gift is often decorated with shells by her mother or another woman in her community. The purpose of the belt is to aid recovery from childbirth, but it also has symbolic, trans-tribal significance. In times of violence, women come together to discuss issues. The old custom is for mothers to place their belts on the ground in front of them. The symbolic line is not allowed to be crossed, but is there to protect the peace of the parties to the conflict to negotiate.
Finland is a women’s rights pioneer
It is often said that Finland was the first country in the world to grant women full political rights. That was in 1906. However, decades of work for equality preceded women’s suffrage and political participation. As early as the 1850s, women activists were speaking out for girls’ education.
In many countries around the world, women continue to struggle for political participation as well as for everyday rights such as the right to own land or inherit from their relatives. In Finland, women and men were granted equal inheritance rights in 1878. The first Finnish co-educational school brought boys and girls together in 1886. In 1870, Marie Tschetschulin became the first Finnish and Scandinavian woman to enrol as a matriculate. Until 1888, however, women were still required to obtain a separate permit to sit the matriculation examination. It was not until 1901 that women were granted the right to study at university.
As the 19th century Kuopio woman lawyer and writer Minna Canth said, “The question of women is not only a woman question, but a question of humanity.” It is easy to agree. Gender equality is first and foremost about human rights, and human rights belong to everyone.
Contract farming project delivers life-changing benefits for women farmers in Uganda
Traditionally, women have had a hard time making a living in Mityana, a rural town in central Uganda. Women are usually not allowed to own farming land, and the ones who have land at their disposal have had low and unpredictable crop yields. This is something the contract farming project, backed by Women’s Bank and Finn Church Aid, wanted to address.
CONTRACT FARMING is a system in which farmers enter into an agreement with a buyer under predetermined contractual obligations. The farmers produce for the market, as they are already assured that they will have a buyer, and what price they will get for their produce.
In some cases, the buyer might also support the farmers with agrotechnical knowledge, inputs and other production requirements to be assured of the best quality product.
“Before, I struggled to make ends meet. I would plant my crops and hope for the best. But now, I have a contract that guarantees to buy my maize at a fair price. I have also received training on how to improve my farming practices, and I have seen the results in my yields,” says one of the farmers, Celina Nelima, about her experience with contract farming.
“With the profits I make, I set up a fast foods business where I sell fried chips to the community in the evenings. I save enough money weekly, and now I am building my dream house. I am grateful to Finn Church Aid for their support,“ Nelima, 34, adds with a big smile.
Increased bargaining power
Finn Church Aid and Women’s Bank help build the linkages between the women farmers and buyers. One of those buyers is Egg Production Uganda Limited (EPL), which is set up by the Women’s Bank. Women are assisted in organising into groups, creating collective bargaining power, to negotiate fair trade deals with the buyers.
FCA and EPL provide women farmers with training and support in the community, such as business literacy, good agricultural practices, Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) methodology, gender awareness, leadership and short-term specialized livelihood trainings. Training has improved the lives of the women and helped them access seeds, fertilizers, and other things they need to start their businesses.
The results have been remarkable. The farmers have been able to increase their yields and household income significantly, take their children back to school with ease, access finances for investment through VSLAs, access medical services, gain respect in their communities, and be elected to leadership positions.
Women in control
Through this, the lives of the women farmers have transformed. They are no longer at the mercy of middlemen who would buy their crops at a low price or not at all. They now have a steady income and can plan for the future.
Bitamisi Nakibirango, 52 years says, “I used to walk 7 kilometers to go to the market to sell my produce, now EPL collects the produce from the bulking center which is not far from my home. This has allowed me to save time and money.”
The success of the contract farming system in Mityana has also had a ripple effect in the community. Other farmers have seen the benefits and are now interested in joining the program. Finn Church Aid Uganda continues to work with the farmers to expand the program and ensure its sustainability.
In Mityana, over 700 women, from as many households, with an average of 6 household members each, were introduced to contract farming by Finn Church Aid Uganda (FCA). FCA is a non-profit organization that works to promote sustainable livelihoods in rural communities in a program that was initiated on January 3rd 2021.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
Knowledge Management Central in Advancing Inclusive Local Governance in Somalia
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.
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.
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.
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.