Introduce yourself (Name, organization, and how long you have been involved in activism)
My name is Asmahan Abdelsalam Hassan. Currently, I am the chairwoman of a women’s network in Somaliland called Nagaad Network. I have been involved in activism for the last 22 years.
Describe the work that you have been doing as a women rights activist/defender in your country;
As a women rights activist/defender, I have been advocating, together with the other women activists in the network, for women’s rights as human rights; be it, political, social and economic rights. We have been working towards reducing the different forms of violence committed against women and girls through awareness raising and advocacy campaigns for the enactment of laws criminalizing violence against women and girls.
As in many parts of the world, women and girls in my country experience different forms of violence against them such as sexual violence, domestic violence and harmful traditional practices in the form of FGM. We advocate for the formulation new of policies for combating violence against women and girls and the proper implementation of those policies that already exist.
What do you think are the three most important women’s rights issues in your country and why?
A very important women rights issues in my country is their right to fully participate in the decision-making process of the country at all levels. Women are almost denied this right in the pretext of culture and male dominance in this domain. Moreover, miss interpretation of religion by some hardline religious leaders augmented the problem.
The second women rights issue is the harmful traditional practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) that existed for centuries and which young girls are subjected to from a very early age of their lives, and which sometimes results in loss of lives or serious health issues that linger with them for the rest of their lives. Campaigns to eradicate this harmful tradition were going on for almost three decades, where we have been advocating for the formulation of a policy to stop this practice. This year, to our dismay, the Ministry of Religious Affairs issued a ‘fatwa’ or a verdict legalizing the so-called Sunna type of FGM as compulsory. We are continuing to advocate for the total abandonment of this harmful practice.
A very serious sexual violence issue that is committed against women and girls of all ages is the issue of rape. Gang rape, which is a new phenomenon in Somaliland, is on the rise. We have advocated for a sexual offense bill to be enacted and have worked very hard for this bill to be finally passed by the parliament and also approved by the President. However, religious leaders have opposed this bill and have even miss-led the public about some of its content. The President has formed a committee of religious leaders to review the bill and we are waiting for the outcome from their review.
What kind of limitations have you faced in your activism in your country and beyond, within the East and Horn of Africa region?
Advocating for women rights is not an easy task in a male-dominated society. As activists, we encounter many limitations from the public and the government as well. Raising your voice for the issue of women rights is seen as something against Islam and being dictated to women activists by foreigners with a hidden agenda.
Do you feel protected in the work that you do? (If YES or NO, please provide reasons)
Even though I never feel protected working in such an environment, yet, this does not deter me from speaking out for the rights of women who are estimated to constitute over 5o% of the society, and whose rights are denied due to a deep-rooted patriarchal setting of the society which discriminates against them.
What keeps you motivated to keep doing this work?
This situation could sometimes cause frustration and make you feel that your efforts are not bearing fruit. However, my strong will and commitment to the cause is what makes me move forward for I believe that the day will come when what I have accomplished is felt and recognized.