While the future may have it’s limitations for Somalian women, instead of giving up many have turned to working out. This is the best story I’ve come across all day. Exercise is a universally awesome outlet for anger and frustration and it has also been proven to reduce feelings of depression, anxiety and hopelessness.
Somalia is often described as one of the worst places in the world to be a woman, with violence, drought and restrictions from al-Shabab Islamists, who controls much of the country. But the BBC’s Mary Harper found that some Somali women are doing surprising things, and their future may be looking a little brighter.
The article does go on to claim that the women aren’t exactly “safe” at the gym, however, with armed guards, barred windows and locked doors implemented as precautions against would-be rapists and suicide bombers.
The advancements are not limited to a workout routine. Women are opening beauty parlors, art galleries and “shops selling fashionable clothes.”
Despite this, says Ms Ismail, women remain marginalised in many other areas of life. “Somali women feel that they are not getting a fair share of what this country is giving to its people.
"Having contributed so much to it, they are being denied many privileges that women have a right to have. A right to authority, a right to inheritance, a right to making decisions about their marriages, a right not to be physically molested, a right to be treated as equal partners, equal people with men."
Women are waiting for a change in parliament that will mark the next step toward equality in their country. If it happens, they will be able to push for achieving more rights. I’m crossing my fingers for them and saying prayers that it happens - which is about the only thing I can do from 9,732 miles away.
Unfortunately, the BBC didn’t miss the opportunity for a little dig on religio-cultural attire common to the region.
The fact that growing numbers of women are going to gym suggests al-Shabab is losing its grip on their minds. They no longer feel forced to so completely restrict their behaviour, hiding themselves away under thick, dark robes.
Wow. Well I suppose some women feel forced. Others choose to do it. Comments like this do propegate the stereotype of the oppressed (Muslim) female who is forced to be robed and veiled. For me reading this, it’s a powerful indicator that the author (Mary Harper) is supportive of women inasmuch as they hope to become Westernized. Why can’t we get it through our heads that liberation and equality doesn’t necessarily coincide with the way a woman chooses to dress? For some? Sure. There is no such thing as a universal truth about genders, cultures, religions, etc. People are unique, no matter how many similarities they share. But the addition of this stereotype of the hijab/burqa/niqab oppressing women is unnecessary and - IMHO - out of place in this article that otherwise focuses on women’s political and social freedoms in Somalia.
All in all, this article receives a score of 90%. It lost 10 points for it’s pointless inclusion of gender/religious/cultural stereotyping and the absurd read-between-the-lines statements that women who cover are automatically oppressed and in need of our Westernized “liberation.”
Edit: I found Ms. Harper’s twitter information if anyone is interested in speaking their mind to her directly.
Africa Editor, BBC World Service & author of Getting Somalia Wrong? Faith, War & Hope in a Shattered State. Views my own, not BBC’s. Posts are not endorsements.
Nairobi · http://www.maryharper.co.uk
Disclaimer:This post holds the interpretations and opinions of someone who lives outside the cultural experience of Muslimahs. It is meant to raise awareness and garner support. It does not represent the viewpoints or experiences of women who are experiencing these issues directly. If your questions for me have to do with direct experience I will only be able to refer you to some strong Muslimah’s to better answer you. Thank you for reading and for your understanding of the need for this disclaimer!