Maryan Obsiiye, General-Secretary of the Somali Women’s Entrepreneurs Association (SWEA) presenting success stories of Somali women entrepreneurs.
On 2nd January 2013, the International Labour Organization (ILO), Ministry of Social Services and Development and Horn Relief Development (HRD) held a Public Private Forum to discuss the role of women in business. The forum was held at Safari Hotel, Mogadishu and attended by representatives from Government, the private sector, academic institutions, worker’s unions, religious leaders, civil society and women associations. The forum is a part of a series of women empowerment activities sponsored by the EU funded project “Support to the promotion of gender equality and women’s empowerment.”
Shauib Abdirahman, a representative from Dahabshiil Somalia’s money service business specialised in funds transfer opened the ceremony with verses from the Holy Quran. The first session was a series of presentations to discuss the state of women in businesses in Somalia. Sheikh Abdullahi Garun, a religious leader and preacher gave a historical overview of the role of women in Islam. The story of Khadija, wife of the Prophet Mohamed was narrated for her successful business management and business talent.
After the presentation, a Q&A and commentary session was opened. Dahir Ahmed, marketing manager of NationLink Telecom noted that recruitment of 30% of women employees in the telecommunications company attracts fierce criticism. Women in Somalia still face gender barriers in employment and the distribution of economic and financial resources; telecommunications is largely viewed as a “men’s-only” club. Nasra Malin, the only female executive in NationLink recalls how she faced discrimination although she was one of the founders of the company in 1997. “In Somalia, women are rarely in business circles, you hardly see them at executive level.” Nasra had previously worked at her family’s business and credits her entrepreneurial confidence to this. “I was prepared... because when young, I worked at my family business and learned to think independently.” Nasra wants all women to “dare to search for new opportunities and feel empowered to seize them.” She is now bringing educated women into the company.
Maryan Obsiiye, the General Secretary of Somali Women’s Entrepreneurs Association (SWEA) led the second presentation. Maryan noted that lack of access to finance often hinders women’s entrepreneurial capacity. She urged women entrepreneurs to create a common fund to provide loans to women. The Head of the Political Task force - Somali Women Agenda (SWA) Zahra Omar, led the third presentation. The SWA advocates for increased participation of women in government and economic affairs. Somalia’s Federal Parliament policy endorses a 30% women’s quota; currently 15% of cabinet is comprised of women. On 8th November 2012, Hon. Fauziya Adan was appointed as Somalia’s first female foreign minister and Hon. Maryam Kassim as the first female minister of Social Services and Development. Somalia is making great strides to empower women. However, Maryan noted that more efforts need to be made in the judiciary.
The forum ended with a panel discussion with compiled key results and recommendations. Some of the key recommendations were: endorse legislation that ensures equal opportunities for men and women; strengthened support from the international community on loans and capacity building programs; challenges the cultural role of women and encourage women’s participation in economic and political affairs; profile successful women entrepreneurs and publicise them as role models and sensitising communities on gender equality for women.