Asha Abdulle Siyad could have chosen to remain in relative comfort in Canada where she lived and worked as a certified family educator. However, it is not what she longed for. Her heart yearned for a reunion with her family back home in Somalia.
Consequentially, in 2014, she left a well paying job in Ontario and returned to Somalia, partly to fulfill a promise she made to her elderly mother, who lives in Buloburte in the south-central Hiiraan region.
“I had promised my mother that I would build her a house and return home to live with her in the house,” Asha recalls.
The decades long civil war in Somalia affected Asha personally. She migrated to Canada after the outbreak of the war. Also, her husband, Osman Jeyte, was killed at the outbreak of the war in 1991.
Initially, the family lived in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia where Osman ran a successful business, selling car tyres and spare parts. Then the couple decided to return to Somalia after Asha landed a new job with the United States Agency for International Development.
When fighting broke out, Asha was in Italy. Her husband advised her against returning home because the situation was deteriorating. This was to be their last conversation.
As fighting raged on, Osman had planned to flee with the rest of the family. But on the day he was meant to move, all flights from Somalia were cancelled. Fleeing politicians scrambled for the few available seats on the last flight out of Somalia. Osman and the family were stranded.
But, he did not give up hope. He decided to flee the country on foot. With his family tagging along, they walked for 30 kilometres to Afgoye, in Lower Shabelle region, where they sought sanctuary at a relative’s house. Later, he ventured out of the house to buy food at a local market; but was shot by soldiers looting the market.
“My husband was killed in January 1991, but I only learned about it after three months because there was no communication,” Asha recalls.
It took her three years to be reunited with her children and shortly after the reunion she moved to Canada, to live with her siblings.
Fast-forward to 2014, Asha returned to Somalia and landed a job as a Technical Advisor in the Federal Ministry of Education, a task she performed with pleasure. But, as she would soon find out, cultural beliefs and the paternalistic society inhibited many women from achieving their potential.
She observed, “Only a few women had climbed the leadership ladder, with majority engaging in jobs like fruit and vegetable vending or working in farms.”
As a believer in equal gender opportunities, she was also disturbed that few girls had access to education. For those who were lucky to enrol in school, the retention rate was low. “If children don’t go to school, they end up taking over what the mother is doing, sitting on the roadside to sell tea. That has to change.” said Asha.
She is a believer that women’s participation in nation building is anchored in education. Her belief is hinged on the view that investing in girls’ education would break the cycle of poverty in thousands of households across Somalia.
While serving the Federal Ministry of Education, Asha was looking for opportunities to elevate women’s position, in particular in decision-making, in positions of authority.
Asha teamed up with other women and formed the Somali Women’s Leadership Initiative (SWLI), which was launched in June 2014. At the end of her contract with Ministry, she became a fulltime pro-bono member of the SWLI with the determination to make a difference. Eventually she took over the responsibility of coordination of the SWLI intervention across the country in 2015.
Today, she is the Chief Coordinator of the Initiative, working with Somali women from across the country and international agencies alike to push women’s agenda, in politics and in other spheres as well.
Alongside other women activists and advocates, in 2015 Asha took part in preliminary consultative processes that were critical in setting the agenda for women in the country’s 2016 electoral process. Currently she is actively advocating for the realisation of the 30% reserved seats in the both houses of federal parliament as committed by the National Leadership Forum.
Outside women’s organisations and networks, she mentors university students into leadership. Asha involves youth in advocacy programmes and activities, to build their confidence and expand their worldview.
She agrees that women’s involvement in politics may not happen overnight but adds that it is a continuous struggle that will ultimately bear positive results. She calls on society to recognise women’s worth and the active role women can play to rebuild Somalia.
The United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia is mandated to support the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) to promote women’s empowerment.
The Mission has continuously promoted dialogues with Somali women’s civil society organizations and the FGS to support the participation of women in Somalia’s local, regional and national political processes.