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First female taxi driver crashes glass ceiling in conservative Somali city



USA TODAY — HARGEISA, Somalia — Rushing around in a white pharmacist’s coat, Sahra Ali tends to a bloodied young boy in a small room attached to the pharmacy she runs. “She’s the hardest working person in the country,” customer Abdelraheem Adil remarked.

The 34-year-old Somali woman has grown quite a reputation as a midwife, pharmacist and local doctor in this capital of Somalia’s autonomous region of Somaliland.

But it’s Ali’s newest job — the region’s first female taxi driver — that has really caught the attention in the city of 1.5 million.

“Many people are surprised, they can’t believe it,” Ali said. “They stop my taxi in the street, look inside and see me and say, ‘It’s impossible. You’re a woman!’”

In traditionally conservative societies around the globe where opportunities for women are suppressed, more and more pioneers like Ali are taking on the role of family breadwinner and challenging stereotypes about women in the workplace in the process.

Other female barrier smashers include Nadia Ahmed, the first Palestinian woman to drive a taxi, and an all-female mechanics team in Iraq. These women are not just breaking boundaries but are also thriving in traditionally male-orientated jobs.

Ali, a mother of eight, said she doesn’t just want to provide more income for her family. “I want to be a role model for them, and teach my daughters how to be hard working,” she told USA TODAY.

“People that see me in my taxi may say it’s impossible that a woman is doing this job, but I want to show them that it’s not.”

Ali fell into the taxi business accidentally because of misfortune. Her family purchased a car year ago so her husband could work as a taxi driver, but just weeks after their savings had been spent on the vehicle, her husband had a stroke.

Ali, a self-confessed workaholic, decided not to sell the car but make local history instead.

“When my husband became sick, those were dark days. I was five months pregnant, and my mother-in-law had just broken her leg, as well, so I was taking care of both of them and my seven children,” she recalled. “As soon as he became sick I knew I had to work for the two of us to provide for my family.”

Knowing she had to put food on the table, Ali got behind the wheel and hit the bumpy streets of Hargeisa, negotiating around wildly driven vehicles, meandering goats and camels and a lot of male sexism.

“Women are often happy to see me driving, but many men see me and refuse to get in,” she said. “They don’t want a woman to be in the driving seat. It happens a lot.”

Despite the rejections, Ali said she’s proud to be carrying out a job that was previously done just by men. Female customers feel empowered when they stop the taxi on the street and see the driver is a woman, she added. Many now call her directly when they need a ride.
A typical day starts at 5 a.m., when Ali drives her taxi before starting work as a midwife at a local hospital at 8 a.m. After finishing her hospital duties at 2 p.m., she opens her pharmacy with help from her oldest child, Mohammed Ali, 13, after he finishes school. She then works in the pharmacy or driving the taxi into the night, often getting home at 11 p.m.

Ali often combines her jobs — picking up customers in her cab while delivering orders from the pharmacy.

The grueling work pace is uplifting, Ali said. “Now, I feel happy. When my husband had his stroke and I was pregnant, there was no one to help, life was hard. But I feel relaxed now that I’m able to work and earn enough for my family.”

“Just recently I saw another female taxi driver,” Ali said with excitement. “We saw each other at a traffic stop and waved and said hello.”

“Before, it was just me doing this alone, to know another woman has decided to go into the taxi business as well, is a great feeling,” she added. “I’ll be happy if women here who are in poverty or who are widows or have a bad situation at home start working and doing the same as me.”

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Somali News

Switzerland to host Somali unity talks



Switzerland is ready to host talks between the Federal Government of Somalia and the breakaway Somaliland, official said.

Somaliland Foreign minister Sa’aad Ali Shire told the media in Hargeisa, the capital of the breakaway state on Saturday, that the talks would be held soon, without giving specific dates.

“The talks between the two sides will restart in Switzerland soon,” he said.

However, Dr Shire stated that a preliminary meeting between presidents Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo of Somalia and Somaliland Muse Bihi Abdi of Somalland, would be held in neighbouring Djibouti.

“The two sides will set the agenda of the talks in Switzerland during the preliminary discussions in Djibouti,” said Dr Shire.

A London conference on Somalia in May 2013 welcomed the dialogue between the Federal Government and Somaliland in Ankara, Turkey in the preceding month, to clarify their future relationship.

Conference participants encouraged further talks between the two sides.

While Mogadishu insists on the unity of Somalia as paramount, the leaders of the self-declared Republic of Somaliland want to secure secession it declared in May 1991.

Somaliland is the authority that governs the territory formerly known as British Somaliland Protectorate, which joined with the former Italian-ruled Somalia, to form the Republic of Somalia on July 1, 1960.

Although Somaliland unilaterally declared independence from the rest of Somalia, the region remains unrecognised by the international community.

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Somaliland Fatwa Forbids FGM



VOA — Authorities in the self-declared republic of Somaliland have issued a religious fatwa banning the practice of female genital mutilation and vowed to punish violators.

The fatwa by the Ministry of Religious Affairs allows FGM victims to receive compensation. It does not say whether the compensation will be paid the government or by violators of the ban.

“It’s forbidden to perform any circumcision that is contrary to the religion which involves cutting and sewing up, like the pharaoh circumcision, the ministry’s fatwa reads. “Any girl who suffers from pharaoh circumcision will be eligible for compensation depending the extent of the wound and the violation caused. Any one proven to be performing the practice will receive punishment depending on the extent of the violation.”

The fatwa – issued Tuesday, coinciding with the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation – did not elaborate on the type or severity of punishment.

FGM involves removing part or all of the clitoris and labia for non-medical reasons, usually as a rite of passage. On its website, the World Health Organization (WHO) says cutting – often performed on girls 15 and younger – can result in bleeding, infection, problems with urination and complications with childbearing.

Somalia is among the countries in which FGM is most prevalent. The international organization reports that an estimated 98 percent of Somali females ages 15 to 49 have undergone the procedure.

The fatwa comes less than a month after Somaliland’s parliament for the first time approved a bill criminalizing rape and requiring prison terms for those who are convicted.
Praise for fatwa

Religious affairs minister Sheikh Khalil Abdullahi Ahmed hailed the fatwa, which effectively criminalizes FGM. He said the practice led Somali women and girls to suffer “during marriage, during childbirth and at young age” as it interferes with urination and menstruation.

Ahmed said society has “ignored” the problem for a long time.

“It was a problem that was ignored – whether they are religious scholars as well as the society. Its victim was a young child who did not have the power to protect itself. Today we stood up for our girls. This cruel act of circumcision is crime from today.”

Somaliland’s minister of social affairs and labor, Hinda Jama, welcomed the fatwa.

“Today we reached the pinnacle. We thank the religious scholars. I say, let us implement it and let us legislate a bill,” she said. “We will be watchful for anyone who performs cutting of a young girl. We will set up neighborhood watches to implement it.”

Prominent women’s rights activist Maryan Qasim, a former Somali minister of health, education and social services, also hailed the fatwa.

“A good step forward towards eradicating this harmful cultural practice that has harmed generations of Somali women,” she said in a Twitter post. “Time for FGM to end.”

Action plan and legislation anticipated

Ifrah Ahmed – founder of the Mogadishu-based Ifrah Foundation, which combats FGM – predicted that Somalia’s government would publish a national action plan this spring to fight the practice.

A bill forbidding FGM is very close to completion and will come before the Somali parliament soon, and this will help towards stopping this practice,” she told VOA Somali.

Ahmed said the Ifrah Foundation held a national conference in December and has conducted awareness training to over 6,000 youth members.

“I hope [in] the next 10 years Somalia will eradicate FGM; not to reduce it, but stop the practice as a whole,” she said.

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Humanitarian Watch

Nomadic communities suffer most as drought stalks Somaliland



By Corrie Butler, IFRC — Driving through the rural landscapes of Somaliland, the views are breathtaking – towering blue mountains cutting the glaring sky over dry, thorn-bushed desert. Small dome-like temporary houses, known as ‘aqals’, dot the arid terrain.

These belong to nomads who have survived in these harsh conditions for generations, but for the first time, they are facing an uncertain future.

Years of consecutive drought have spiralled Somaliland’s nomadic communities into a devastating food crisis. Their ability to pack up and move livestock to better grazing pastures would normally give them a major advantage over other farmers. But the unprecedented drought has caused most – if not all – of their camels, sheep and goats to die and, with them, their livelihoods.

The Somali Red Crescent Society, in partnership with the IFRC, is present throughout Somaliland and Puntland, helping communities to respond to the growing challenges that vulnerable groups, including nomadic communities, face.

Dorothy Francis, Operations Manager of IFRC’s Somalia Complex Emergency Appeal, explained: “The nomads are the ones that are suffering the most because their livelihoods have always been based on livestock and that’s based on access to water.

“Because the crisis has deepened, there hasn’t been the rain we expected, so we see coping strategies becoming more negative. They are selling everything. They are leaving home to go further and further away to work so families are being broken up.”

Signs of malnutrition

Hinda Adan, a nomad and mother of four, visited a Red Crescent mobile health clinic in Lamadhadher village, south of Burao, Somaliland, to have her children screened to determine signs of malnutrition. Before the drought, her and her husband were successful livestock herders, owning 120 sheep, goats and camels. They had everything they needed. But the drought has killed almost all their livestock – only ten goats remain.

“Our life depends now on these ten goats,” said Hinda. “We have one to two meals a day. We prioritize our children – to feed them first.”

However, Hinda still feels luckier than others, including her neighbours: “The family had to split up three of their children among relatives. It affected their entire home. It is affecting our entire community,” she says.

Bringing humanitarian assistance to nomadic communities is one of the biggest challenges the Red Crescent faces, as their regular movement means it is often difficult to reach them reliably.

“Often, we arrive in a community to find that [the nomads] have gone to the next area,” explained Hussein Mohamed Osman, Berbera branch secretary for the Red Crescent in the Sahil region. “It also proves to be very costly to travel long distances to reach them.”

One of Somali Red Crescent’s flagship services is its mobile clinics, which are able to travel off-road to remote villages to provide health care services, particularly to nomadic communities who need it most. Built to adapt to the needs on the ground, the mobile clinics can spend half a day or multiple days in one village.

As drought conditions have worsened, the Red Crescent has increased the number of skilled health care workers in each team to prioritize the rising cases of malnutrition among children and expectant mothers.

Understanding local needs

IFRC is supporting the Somali Red Crescent in supplementing their urgent needs over the next three months, including emergency cash for food and other items. All humanitarian assistance is carefully considered to meet the teams’ needs and allow them to remain mobile: jerry cans and aqua tabs to ensure water is clear, and shelter products to keep them warm in the cool desert evenings, including blankets, sleeping mats and tarpaulins.

Although IFRC and the Red Crescent are helping to ensure short-term emergency needs are being met, efforts to implement longer-term interventions have started, which helps communities become more resilient to future emergencies. This includes rehabilitating 95 berkeds – or small dams – in the densely populated areas that have no access to water; rehabilitating wells and other water points; and, where some rain has come, providing villagers with the means to plough their farmland.

“What we are trying to do is cover an entire community with everything so we’ll have a cleaner, safer, healthier community – providing them with food, providing them with water, providing them with shelter,” explained Dorothy.

“It is a huge task but IFRC is working with a very strong Red Crescent society. We are managing to reach the most vulnerable people. We are doing the best we can.”

Fatima Mohamed Yusuf, a nomad in Togdheer region, is one of the community members who received much-needed health care in a Somali Red Crescent mobile clinic close to her temporary settlement. The drought came at a devastating cost to her and her family, who lost 270 sheep and goats.

“If there is no rain, I worry for my remaining livestock and I worry for myself and family. Allah only knows when the rains will come,” said Fatima.

Vital partnerships to tackle drought

IFRC is working closely with the Somali Red Crescent and global partners to continue supporting the needs of the most vulnerable people, but the fight to prevent famine is not over. Somaliland is currently categorized as a stage four emergency (crisis) and could easily descend into famine. It was only six years ago that Somalia experienced a famine that killed a quarter of a million people. IFRC will help to ensure Somalia never has to experience famine again.

Thanks to the generous support of the global community through the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, seven million Swiss francs has been donated to the IFRC Emergency Food Crisis Appeal in Somalia, which will help to bring life-saving support to 353,000 people in some of the most isolated, vulnerable and hard-to-reach communities.

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