Guest post: The Women Shepherds of Somaliland
The UN sends reporters round the world to film some of the world’s most important and under-reported stories for its flagship broadcast “21st Century” which goes out to major broadcasters round the world.
UNTV producer Francis Mead and videographer Antonio Tibaldi traveled to Somaliland, the self-declared autonomous state in northern Somalia. Francis says he won’t forget Beerato, the village where they filmed in central Somaliland. They found a world of dust, sheep, goats, camels – and bold women, insisting on changing their lives – and knowing how to party – dancing, singing and clapping in the Sufi style. Francis explains more here:
We travelled with Amina Souleiman, a Somali woman who gained political asylum in the UK during Somalia’s civil war in the 1990s. She now spends half her year helping women in her homeland stand up for their rights.
The UN Democracy Fund is financing her project. It’s a remarkable initiative, though each step forward has to be patient and small, and is met by resistance from the male village elders. We met Sahra – an impressive, highly intelligent woman, a shepherd with no formal education and one of the leading lights in the village. Sahra is one of Amina’s protegés.
Water is a central concern year round – and Beerato, when drought isn’t severe, is a major watering hole for the surrounding villages. We watched and filmed as camel herds and flocks of sheep and goats were brought in, lining up to take their turn, almost like aircraft taxiing on a runway. The semi-nomadic families here move their flocks and herds to new pastures several times each year:
Life in Beerato is precarious. By the traditional division of labour, women look after sheep and goats, while men look after the camels. If women lose their flock to drought (which happens not infrequently) they effectively lose their right to graze the tribal lands and are often forced into exile to the capital Hargeisa. Then almost the only option is to labour in the markets. In the city, life is brutally tough, money is hard to come by, and home is usually a displaced persons’ camp or a shanty town.
Amina, Sahra and the village women are determined this won’t happen to them. Holding regular women’s circles, they are asserting their rights with the village elders, and arguing for access to school and land. Already, they have installed five women teachers in the village school for the first time. Next they plan to build a hospital – money will have to be raised internationally by Amina.
See the film here: