Women in Somalia

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Somali woman in traditional Guntino.

Women in Somalia form a key part of Somali society, with clearly defined and important roles in the family and clan structure. This includes Somali women in the autonomous Puntland region and Somaliland, a self-declared republic that is internationally recognized as an autonomous region (Federal Member State) of Somalia.[1][2]


Most people in Somalia are Muslims.[3] Somalia's population is expanding at a growth rate of 1.67% per annum and a birth rate of 41.45 births/1,000 people. Somalia's total fertility rate in 2013 was 6.17 children born per woman, the fourth highest in the world.[4]

Most local residents are young, with a median age of 17.7 years. 44.3% of the population are between the ages of 0–14 years, 53.5% are between the ages of 15–64 years, and only 2.3% are 65 years of age or older. The gender ratio is roughly balanced, with proportionally about as many men as women.[4]

Clan and family structure[edit]

The clan groupings of the Somali people are important social units, and clan membership plays a central part in Somali culture and politics. Clans are patrilineal and are often divided into sub-clans, sometimes with many sub-divisions.

Somali society is traditionally ethnically endogamous. To extend ties of alliance, marriage is often to another Somali from a different clan. For example, a 1994 study observed that in 89 marriages contracted by men of the Dhulbahante clan, 55 (62%) were with women of Dhulbahante sub-clans other than those of their husbands; 30 (33.7%) were with women of surrounding clans of other clan families (Isaaq, 28; Hawiye, 3); and 3 (4.3%) were with women of other clans of the Darod clan family (Majeerteen 2, Ogaden 1).[5]

Major Somali clans include:

In 1975, the most prominent government reforms regarding family law in a Muslim country were set in motion in the Somali Democratic Republic, which put women and men, including husbands and wives, on complete equal footing.[6] The 1975 Somali Family Law gave men and women equal division of property between the husband and wife upon divorce and the exclusive right to control by each spouse over his or her personal property.[7]


Young Somali women at a community event in Hargeisa.

During regular, day-to-day activities, women in Somalia usually wear the guntiino, a long stretch of cloth tied over the shoulder and draped around the waist. The guntiino is traditionally made out of plain white fabric sometimes featuring with decorative borders, although nowadays alindi, a textile common in the Horn of Africa region and some parts of North Africa, is more frequently used. The garment can be worn in many different styles and with different fabrics.

For more formal settings such as weddings or religious celebrations like Eid, women wear the dirac, a long, light, diaphanous voile dress made of cotton, polyester or saree fabric. The dirac is related to the short-sleeved Arabian kaftan dress. It is worn over a full-length half-slip and a brassiere. Known as the gorgorad, the underskirt is made out of silk and serves as a key part of the overall outfit.

The dirac is usually sparkly and very colorful, the most popular styles being those with gilded borders or threads. The fabric is typically acquired from Somali clothing stores in tandem with the gorgorad. In the past, dirac fabric was also frequently purchased from South Asian merchandisers.

Somali women in traditional attire.

Married women tend to sport head-scarves referred to as shash, and also often cover their upper body with a shawl known as garbasaar. Unmarried or young women do not always cover their heads. Traditional Arabian garb such as the jilbab is also commonly worn.

Additionally, Somali women have a long tradition of wearing gold and silver jewelry, particularly bangles. During weddings, the bride is frequently adorned in gold. Many Somali women by tradition also wear gold necklaces and anklets. Xirsi, a quranic necklace, also worn in countries such as Ethiopia and Yemen, is also frequently worn.

Henna is another important part of Somali culture. It is worn by Somali women on their hands, arms, feet and neck during weddings, Eid, Ramadan, and other festive occasions. Somali henna designs are similar to those in the Arabian peninsula, often featuring flower motifs and triangular shapes. The palm is also frequently decorated with a dot of henna and the fingertips are dipped in the dye. Henna parties are usually held before the wedding ceremony takes place.


Somalia has a long tradition of poetry. Several well-developed Somali forms of verse include the female-driven buraanbur, as well as gabay, jiifto, geeraar, wiglo, beercade, afarey and guuraw. The gabay (epic poem) is mostly composed by men has the most complex length and meter, often exceeding 100 lines. It is considered the mark of poetic attainment when a young poet is able to compose such verse, and is regarded as the height of poetry.[8]

Buraanbur, which is of a lighter measure, is primarily composed by women. Groups of memorizers and reciters (hafidayaal) traditionally propagated the well-developed art form. Poems revolve around several main themes, including baroorodiiq (elegy), amaan (praise), jacayl (romance), guhaadin (diatribe), digasho (gloating) and guubaabo (guidance). The baroorodiiq is composed to commemorate the death of a prominent poet or figure.[8]

Notable women[edit]

Notable women in the country include Chairperson of the Barnet Muslim Women's Network Hanan Ibrahim, former Federal Minister of Social Development Maryam Qaasim, former Federal Foreign Minister Fowsiyo Yussuf Haji Aadan, former Foreign Minister of the Somaliland region Edna Adan Ismail, and parliamentary consultant Hodan Ahmed.

Female genital mutilation[edit]

About 97.9% of Somalia's women and girls underwent female genital mutilation in a 2005 study. This was at the time the world's highest prevalence rate of the procedure.[9] A UNICEF 2010 report reported that Somalia had the world's highest rate of Type III FGM, with 79% of all Somali women having undergone the procedure. Another 15% of women underwent Type II FGM.[10]

The prevalence is on the decline in the northern part of Somalia. In 2013, UNICEF in conjunction with the Somali authorities reported that the FGM prevalence rate among 1- to 14-year-old girls in the autonomous northern Puntland and Somaliland regions had dropped to 25% following a social and religious awareness campaign.[11] Article 15 of the Federal Constitution adopted in August 2012 prohibits female circumcision.[2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Somaliland’s Quest for International Recognition and the HBM-SSC Factor
  2. ^ a b "The Federal Republic of Somalia - Provisional Constitution" (PDF). Retrieved 13 March 2013.
  3. ^ "Middle East Policy Council – Muslim Populations Worldwide". Mepc.org. 2005-12-01. Archived from the original on 2006-12-14. Retrieved 2010-06-27.
  4. ^ a b "Somalia". The World Factbook. Langley, Virginia: Central Intelligence Agency.
  5. ^ Ioan M. Lewis, Blood and Bone: The Call of Kinship in Somali Society, (Red Sea Press: 1994), p.51
  6. ^ Pg.115 - Women in Muslim family law by John L. Esposito, Natana J. DeLong-Bas
  7. ^ Pg.75 - Generating employment and incomes in Somalia: report of an inter-disciplinary employment and project-identification mission to Somalia financed by the United Nations Development Programme and executed by ILO/JASPA
  8. ^ a b Mohamed Diriye Abdullahi, Culture and Customs of Somalia, (Greenwood Press: 2001), p.75-76
  9. ^ "Prevalence of FGM". Who.int. 2010-12-09. Retrieved 2010-12-30.
  10. ^ Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: Data and Trends: UPDATE 2010 UNICEF, Page 7
  11. ^ "Somalia: Female genital mutilation down". Associated Press via The Jakarta Post. 16 April 2013. Retrieved 17 May 2013.


External links[edit]

Media related to Women of Somalia at Wikimedia Commons