Borne of the social justice movement, the Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA) Network is an indigenous African women’s rights organisation with a soul. Our organisation was created by women activists from Somaliland, Ethiopia, and Sudan in the mid-1990s. Today we continue to work as an inclusive and diverse feminist women’s rights network that holds a unique position working as a regional civil society organisation in politically volatile contexts. SIHA works in a variety of cultural, political, and geographical environments in Uganda, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Eritrea, Somalia, Somaliland, Sudan and South Sudan.
In this part of the world, women are regularly portrayed and perceived as victims, but SIHA challenges the status quo and the notion that African women are victims. SIHA acknowledges that almost all challenges that women face are based on socially constructed norms and that these norms actively subordinate women. We work through and firmly believe in the collective power of African women. We are convinced beyond any doubt that if African women are given the space, they will drive change in this region and beyond. Defying presumptions about African women, SIHA has been carried on the shoulders of numerous African women’s rights activists and has been sustained by their relentless commitment to their cause. SIHA approaches the struggle for women’s rights in the Greater Horn of Africa as a political one, and as such, we hold our aims of fundamental political transformation at the forefront.
In this region, religious militancy often disguises itself as an ideology for resistance against state corruption and ethnic/cultural biases, when in actuality it is a strategy used by states to oppress and subordinate their populations, with ethnic/religious minorities, the poor, and women being the groups most acutely impacted. This is why SIHA works on addressing religious militancy without fear, and in doing so; our connection to our constituency is deepened. This work has been particularly important in Sudan and Somalia. SIHA works to challenge militarisation and military institutions, as they perpetuate the subjugation of women in order to maintain power. Our work in Sudan and South Sudan particularly speaks to this, especially the leading SIHA played in extending support to women human rights defenders (WHRDs) and activists in Sudan during their struggle against the totalitarian ex-regime.
SIHA works to empower civil activists in conflict and post-conflict situations because we believe that conflicts can only end with civil activism and citizen’s active involvement in peaceful governance. Our work in Sudan through the resistance committees of the Sudanese Revolution proves the strength of women’s rights activists within civil society.
Within the increasing rates of mixed migration in the region, SIHA has paid close attention to the pattern of women and girls who migrate to escape conflict or to find employment, particularly as domestic workers. SIHA has worked to support the Ethiopian and Eritrean migrant women and girls who form a significant segment of this group.
SIHA believes in women’s economic growth and equal access to employment. We believe in the importance of women’s equal inclusion in skilled and vocational labour sectors. Our work with women in the informal sector in Kampala and Hargeisa unveils women who have been rendered invisible and unprotected as a result of their exclusion from the formal economy. SIHA has carved out a niche working with urban poor women (a constituency created by rural –urban migration) through the collective power manifested in women’s cooperatives and associations. SIHA also works to break gender stereotypes in vocational education and employment in Sudan through training programmes for young women.
The language of gender equality is mostly driven by actors from the Global North. SIHA, and other women’s rights groups from the Global South, are constantly fighting to recapture ownership over the language of gender equality as we envision it in our communities. SIHA challenges the idea presented by some northern actors that women are one. As a feminist organisation, we believe that women cannot be reduced to a monolithic entity with a single set of beliefs. Instead SIHA’s work emphasizes that African women are a diverse group with differing interests and priorities, which drive them to hold different positions ideologically and politically. We work to build inclusive women’s movements, which draw power from diversity.
As an African organisation managed by women working across seven countries, both our work and our strong connections to constituents from a diverse set of ethnic, religious, and tribal backgrounds disproves the ill-informed notion that differences of ethnicity, religion, or tribe prevent women from collaborating around shared struggles. As an organisation, we have been greatly appreciated welcomed, supported, loved, tolerated and taken care of by women and men from all the countries in which we are working.
All of SIHA’s extraordinary work is being led by African women and supported by continental and global solidarity. SIHA continues to own its struggle and navigate and transform its challenges into actual gains and lessons learned. SIHA’s trajectory of growth is embedded in safeguarding and advancing women’s rights in the region while constantly generating knowledge through women’s lived realities to politically affirm inclusive women’s movements throughout the Greater Horn of Africa.