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Dr. Hodal Ali: "Somali women political survival rests in unity and solidarity"

Friday August 20, 2021

In 1989, just before the collapse of Siyad Barre’s regime, Dr. Hodan Ali, then a child, left Somalia with her family to settle in Canada.

The family made home in Hamilton, Ontario, where she studied later studied at McMaster University for her Bachelor of Science in Nursing and a postgraduate diploma in Health Care Nurse Practitioner (PHCNP).

She later became a Primary Healthcare Nurse Practitioner, and in 2011, she co-founded the first immigrant and refugee general health practice in Hamilton, Ontario.

Returning home to help

Hodan returned to Somalia during the 2011 famine, 22 years since she left the country as a child, as part of medical team from Canada.

Her encounters with the problems and tribulations that Somalis went through during the famine, and longtime dreams of returning home, rejuvenated her more - to take part in Somalia's reconstruction process.

“When I arrived, I was deeply troubled by the incredible pain and suffering amid the high insecurity in Mogadishu. Nearly a quarter-million people died during that period because of the famine. Many of them children and women. At that time, I was unable to stay, but had committed to returning to take part in the recovery and state building process,” she recalls.

Her dream was always to come back and rebuild Somalia’s healthcare system.

“I always wanted to return home and support the health system of the country given my training; improving access to primary healthcare. Too many Somali children die prematurely because of preventable and treatable diseases such as pneumonia, diarrhoea, malaria etc. Somali mothers continue to have one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world because of lack of prenatal care and safe labour and delivery services not to mention various common treatable diseases that contribute to the high rate of morbidity and mortality we see across the country,” she notes.

Hodan finally fulfilled her dream and longings for Somalia in mid-2016 when she returned to take part in rebuilding of Somalia.

She worked in various roles in the government.

“I had initially worked with the National Drought Committee as a medical advisor during the 2016-17 drought. I was pleased to see that compared to 2010, this time we were able to save thousands of lives and avert famine; a testament to the country's systems beginning to function and greater coordination with international partners,” she states.

Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)

She soon started working with IDPs in Mogadishu to change their living conditions.

She was appointed as Senior Policy Advisor on internal displacement to the Mayor of Mogadishu Municipality in 2018.

“I've served as the Senior Policy Advisor on internal displacement to the Mayor of Mogadishu Municipality since 2018.  As you are aware, over the past 30 years of conflict and natural disasters, nearly 1 million people fled into the capital and have become internally displaced across the city,” she says.

In 2019, in response to the challenges faced by IDPs, she supported the municipality in establishing a new directorate called the Durable Solutions Unit (DSU).

“The unit’s objective is to build the capacity of the local government to effectively address internal displacement and the rampant human rights violations taking place in the camps. The unit developed the first regional IDP policy, Evictions Prevention guidelines, and the regional durable solutions strategy. Through the European Union funded project, the unit spearheaded the design and implementation of the first social housing project in thirty years,” Dr. Ali says.

Women’s solidarity movement

Dr. Ali is not only a professional who has touched and changed the lives of many Somalis, but also an activist who wants to see Somali women taking part in the country's rebuilding efforts.

She believes women political participation is the panacea to the progress of Somalia's political, economic, and social development.

And that noble intention led her to co-establish a grassroots women’s political movement called LeadNow.

According to her, LeadNow is an intersectional women’s solidarity movement dedicated to increasing women's participation in political and public office in Somalia and amplifying all existing and new women’s networks.

"To achieve this, LeadNow acknowledges that Somali women are diverse, and we aim to redefine women’s collectives by ensuring we are inclusive and champion all Somali women as we strive to achieve a common goal for fair representation in public office. We are a broad network of women including women's rights advocates, female politicians, civil society members, academia, and elders ready to engage all stakeholders tasked with selecting parliamentarians in the 2020-21 Somali Parliament elections,” she remarks.

Moreover, she has recently stepped up her advocacy for women.

“The immediate goal is to ensure that in this election cycle, by preserving the women's quota so we do not lose the gains made in the 2016 elections which resulted in 24.5% women MPs being elected to parliament. Unfortunately, to date, we do not have any concrete commitments and mechanisms to ensure women will have a leveled playing field in the elections. Instead, we have non-binding verbal commitments from FMS Presidents. Not exactly a comforting prospect for contesting women,” the activist says.

She also noted that the international community and financiers of the electoral process must take the issue of women’s political quota seriously.

“In light of recent experiences by Somali women candidates in Somaliland which saw no women being elected to parliament because there was no required quota, it is imperative the quota is guaranteed with clear mechanisms similar to that of the 2016 process in Somalia’s general elections. Given the tumultuous nature of Somali politics, and the predisposition to favour men in all matters, the international community, the financiers of the elections MUST make the quota conditional to disbursement of election funds. Without this measure, I am afraid Somali women stand to lose gains made in the political process,” Dr. Ali says.

Dr. Ali believes that without many female legislatures, the country will see further erosion of the rights of girls, women, and vulnerable groups.

“It is imperative that the Somali government continues its commitments in ensuring women and minority groups are not excluded in nation-building, and that the rights of all citizens are protected constitutionally. Equally important is the international community using every tool at its disposal to guarantee political participation and inclusion of vulnerable groups now before it's too late,” she notes.

Challenges and prospects

Dr. Ali said that unity among Somali women is the determining factor for their success in politics.

She emphasized the fact that each election cycle brought its own challenges and opportunities and that her main concern was that Somali women played the political game the same way, repeatedly.

“The political landscape has changed dramatically. Each election cycle brings its own challenges and opportunities.  Women must begin to think of politics as an all-year every year event and not just during election season. Women must also understand politics is about power and opportunity that must be seized unapologetically. Power is always taken never given. This will require experienced leadership that centres the collective interest rather than individual self-interventions to lead. It is essential we study history and move forward with a clearly articulated agenda,” she stresses.

Questioning patriarchy 

She urges the country's leaders and traditional elders responsible for the selection of political members to always remember that full representation of women is in the interest of all Somalis who are recovering from multifaceted crises.

“Women need to understand that in the end, the clan will always favour men, thus we must remember our collective survival rests in unity and solidarity of women. Those who continue to undermine and block women from the process can be defeated with persistence and bold feminist agenda. The blame game will always be present, women will be judged against unreasonable metrics never used to measure the successes or failures of men. We must not fall victim to and lose sight of the bigger picture. It took over 240 years to elect Kamala Harris as United States Vice President,” she states.

Dr Hodan says that Somalia is in the process of rebuilding its institutions, thus empowering women to participate in the economic, political and social life is essential to building a stronger society, achieving international standards for development and sustainability, and improving the quality of life for Somali people.

“Creating conducive environments and legislation to protect and guarantee their participation will serve the nation well, this includes men. With more women in leadership and political influence, we will see security improve, economies grow, more children attending schools, public health improve, more harmony among communities and less conflict,” she remarks.


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