For me, women’s rights work is not just a job. I genuinely believe in tolerant societies that celebrate our diversity and allow the individual to make their best contribution to humanity
My role in Somalia was to assist the Ministry of Women Development and Family Affairs with the finalisation of their Gender Mainstreaming Strategy. This was a component of the Institutional Capacity Building Programme for the State of Puntland, Somalia.
For me, women’s rights work is not just a job. I genuinely believe intolerant societies that celebrate our diversity and allow the individual to make their best contribution to humanity. Being able to make a difference by contributing my extensive experience in gender and institutional development was a key factor in my acceptance of the Somalia Assignment. I describe myself as ‘a hopeless do-gooder’.
Somalia was challenging. My task was to develop a draft gender mainstreaming concept into an implementation-ready three-year Gender Mainstreaming Implementation Plan for the Government of Puntland Somalia. It involved nine ministries.
Your day starts with breakfast with your colleagues in the secured compound, and you check that your headscarf is neatly in place since your attire must respect the local dress code. An armed escort takes you to your meeting place. Local staff provide translation as you go about your assignment. You chat with the ‘girls in the office’ to the extent that you can with the language challenges, get a compliment on the colour of your hijab that you acquired because it is practical, and they arrange to purchase air time for you. The working times and working days take a bit of time to adjust but you quickly catch the rhythm. Evenings are for data write-ups and work and connecting with home and family is facilitated by super-fast Wi-Fi connection in the compound. Dinner fare tastes like home, a quick check-in with your security team and you can call it a day.
The work was fulfilling. It is work that requires solid experience because you have no fallback as you are totally alone. A spirit of adventure and open-mindedness to learning new experiences is useful in this kind of work. One has to be willing to quickly adapt to circumstances, and go with the flow while not losing sight of the assignment objectives. Despite the apparent differences, language challenges and institutional differences, you are all working towards the same goal, and it helps to remember that.
Somalia has a very promising future. The country needs patience as it moves from the clan-based crisis mode of governance into a more egalitarian form and system of government. It has huge economic growth potential which they need wide-ranging capacity assistance in technical, financial and human resources to unlock.
My stint taught me that you can never learn enough about the different peoples that make up planet earth and that humour and a smile go a long way in bridging bridges between peoples, cultures and religions.