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22. September 2009

Ulrike Lunacek and Nahma Ahmed Abdi at their Interview ©Women without Borders

Ulrike Lunacek and Nahma Ahmed Abdi © Women without Borders

Ulrike Lunacek and Najma Ahmed Abdi during thier interview.

Interview Najma Ahmed Abdi and Ulrike Lunacek, Nov 08 Vienna

Najma Ahmed Abdi and Ulrike Lunacek speak about Somalia

In November 2008, Najma Ahmed Abdi (NA), an activist for the NGO Save Somali Women and Children, spoke with Ulrike Lunacek (UL), an economist and one of the European Green Party’s two presidents. Below is a modified version of the interview.

UL: In Europe, the only image we have of Somalia derives from what the media tells us. The main issue we hear about is the Somali pirates, because European ships are affected. But the little I know of Somalia tells me that the main problem is the lack of government, the lack of protection. What kind of work are you doing on both the humanitarian and the political levels?

NA: It’s funny that you should mention this issue, because when Save Somali Women and Children was formed in 1992, its mission was to help Somali women who were trapped between the two clans, who were raped, who were illiterate—we literally had to save women from early marriages and female genital mutilation. We educated and empowered Somali women and introduced them into politics, such that there are now female parliamentarians. However, with the recent conflict in Somalia and the establishment of IDB camps around Mogadishu, we have gone from being a gender empowerment organization to being a military organization. Women now come to us and say ‘you trained me, you empowered me, but now my husband is dead and I cannot find my children, where do I go from here?’ Three million people are living in a crisis situation.

UL: There are still so many people living in these camps?

NA: Yes, but there are clan lines to consider. Everyone helps the people they are related to. But we can’t do that, because we are structured to help all Somali women, regardless if they belong to the majority or the minority. We understand that, as a woman, your identity is your womanhood, it’s who you are and what makes you more special than men. We actually introduced a concept many in my country initially frowned upon: men traditionally were considered to be higher than women, but we began to posit that women are actually higher than men because we can give life, which men cannot do. We have the determination, energy, and ability to create change, although it is sometimes very difficult to empower a mother to not cut her daughter.
We have recently received a number of threats, because we protested the stoning of a 13-year old girl in Mogadishu. She was mentally unstable and wandered into the wrong neighborhood, upon which she was gang-raped by eight men. In tears, she ran to a mosque and told a clerk there what had happened. His response: ‘So, you’ve become a prostitute?’ And they stoned her to death.
Her father asked us to speak out, but the Somali media refuses to publish the stories because they claim to be protecting us from the wrath of the rapists and others who engage in those activities. Although the BBC and the ABM finally picked up the story, they did not describe the magnitude of the event.

UL: But the basic problem here is that women are perpetrators as well, they always protect the men…

NA: That’s true. I said ‘Ok, she committed adultery so you killed her, but where are the men who committed adultery? Why are they not dead?’ They said that she was just a stupid girl, bringing shame to a lot of men, and so they stoned her to death to protect the identity of the men who raped her.
Tribes are very important here, people know which tribe houses the Al-Qaeda group that has been created in Somalia. They only answer to bin Laden and believe in killing everyone who is associated with a Westerner. Their Islam is full of anger, suppression, violence, and hatred, but that isn’t my Islam. My Islam tells me to pray five times a day, to give to charity if you can, to visit Mecca, to care for the elderly, and to protect the weak. Their Islam says to kill everybody, because no one is of value to them. The horrible thing is that they’re actually targeting educated people, who can think outside the box, because we are the ones posing questions.

UL: Where does this inhumanity come from?

NA: It’s hopelessness, the trauma of war. It’s the lack of law and order in the country, the unfairness and injustice that is happening everywhere. Can you imagine a 19-year old who grows up in Britain coming back to Somalia and blowing himself up? At first you’re shocked, but now I’m beginning to realize it’s a lack of confidence…

UL: In themselves?

NA: Yes…I want everybody to be the leader of their own destiny, starting with girls. I want young mothers to be able to say ‘No, my daughter will not be cut, because I’ve been cut and look what I’m experiencing.’ I want young men to say ‘I choose who I marry and I’m not going to force a young woman who doesn’t love me to marry me and bear my children.’ By having debates and breaking barriers we’re now able to publicly talk about homosexuality, early marriage, FGM, and HIV. I really want a society like the society I grew up in. I want my children, if I have any, to have the life I had, to see diversity, and to make their own choices, whether it’s based on religion, or sex, or on education. Be whoever you can be and be the best person you are, but to create that environment we’re going to need a lot of education. Education is important, especially in Somalia, where we have 18-year olds who have never been to school. How can I try to convince or prove my point to an 18-year old who cannot think outside his village, or outside his little town, about the bigger world? So, in terms of radicals, we have two choices: we can either blow up the world and not have a future, or we can say ‘this is who we are, as a religion, but we live in a global village, we are a part of the system, we are a part of humanity.’

Najma Ahmed Abdi grew up in the UK. A few years ago she went back to her homeland Somalia where she now works for Save Somali Women and Children in Somalia and Kenya. This national Somali women’s NGO was founded in 1992 to create a safe and sustainable situation by supporting women to overcome marginalization, violence, and poverty in their communities. Najma is also the Chair of the Youth Leadership Forum and a member of the national Committee on Female Genital Mutilation in Somalia.


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