Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

'Sisters; Was This What We Struggled For?': The Gendered Rivalry in Power and Politics

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

'Sisters; Was This What We Struggled For?': The Gendered Rivalry in Power and Politics

Article excerpt


Many studies on women's agency in several parts of the world about events surrounding their political lives-sprung up after the critical intervention of pioneering scholars-have tended to assume that women's political involvement and activism emerged very late and after postcolonial governmentality in the case of Africa. Explorations have touched such themes as the absence of women's 'proper place' (Fallon 2008; Bauer and Britton 2006; Tripp 2001; Elmi et al. 2000; Nussbaum 2000; Geisler 2000). Cases of the 'natural role' of women overlooked still feature in literature (Sen 2014; Ingiriis and Hoehne 2013).

Tracing the contribution of Somali women to the nationalist movement of 1943-1960 offers a rare insight into how women had absorbed local politics earlier than many of their peers around the globe. It also provides a foundation for understanding the contemporary setting of women's movements. Somali women's movements can trace their origins to the 1940s, when several political movements were set up to advocate for Somali independence. Here, women played an important--even crucial--part in many grassroots-level associations and social movements which emerged during the epoch of colonialism up to the collapse of the military regime and post-'civil' war.

This article examines the role of women in the twentieth-century history of modern Somalia. This includes exploring the decolonisation and post-colonial movements and gender changes during the military dictatorship. The article traces gender social movements that made significant changes in Somalia over the past seventy years. Despite the fact that major changes have occurred in the urban centres during the era of colonialism, the social status and position of Somali women, especially those in the rural areas, lies in between struggle and survival. In the countryside, people still adhere to a traditional social structure where women's place in society is determined under the strict conventional wisdom that women belong to the sphere of domestic household work, while in the urban areas women's status has changed dramatically since the era of colonialism (Ingiriis 2011; Aidid 2010; Duale 1981).

Some studies on gender roles in Somalia seem to imply that the rule of the military regime was a golden era of women in Somalia (Bryden and Steiner 1998; Gardner and El Bushra 2004). Drawing from such premises, Forni (1980: 19-28) went even further as to use the term 'emancipation', considering this era as 'the discovery of woman'. These narratives tend to overlook the condition of women in terms of freedom of speech and freedom to form independent associations, a right they enjoyed under the successive post-colonial governments prior to the military rule. Similarly, analysts have failed to consider women living in rural areas, rather than focusing on urbanised women, who allied themselves to the regime, in part because the regime recruited women adherents who could put military men's interests before those of their fellow women's. The article argues otherwise and demonstrates how women were exploited during the regime to remain applauders-that is, people being used to make ululation for the regime.

The Culture of Patriarchy

In a society of male patriarchy assessed through socio-cultural lenses, men had ultimate power, while women were viewed as household guardians. Somali pastoral poetry is one source to witness how women had long been disempowered in this setting favouring male over female. However, within their local communities, women have played a significant role in politics and economy for many years, even if they were assigned principally to follow the traditional roles of wife and mother--a milieu in which 'their potential for individual and collective fulfilment was strictly confined' (Bryden and Steiner 1998: 67).

As Somali politics is based on clan, a major common impediment is how women could and can still play by the rules of the game by dealing with kinship identity. …

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