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In a war torn country where might rules, the voices and concerns of Somali mothers remain muted and low on the list of the nation’s concerns. In Somalia’s patriarchal society, men rule with very minimal participation by women in their decision making processes.
As men and boys eagerly take part in ongoing clashes between the al-Shabaab militant group and the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) forces with its allies, Somali mothers have learnt to conceal their anxiety and fear. Many have watched their first born child recruited into a militia group, a gang or simply disappear to take part in any of the numerous wars and battles at a tender age, in an attempt to provide for family or establish themselves in a violent environment.
Somalia Report looks into the challenges facing Somali mothers who suffer undefined loss after their husbands join al-Shabaab militants to sustain and defend an unfamiliar ideology. The Mujahideen leave their children and wives as they seek greater gains in another life. Somali women who are largely illiterate are left vulnerable and without sufficient support.
Many are ignorant about birth control and are eventually weighed down by the responsibility of children without the constant presence and support of their father. It is common and expected for a Somali woman to have nine or more children in her lifetime. Most expectant mothers deliver at home due to lack of sufficient health facilities. Many of them die of complications while in labour. According to the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), the maternal mortality rate in Somalia is among the highest in the globe.
Somalia Report spoke to a number of Somali mothers for their perspective on family and motherhood. Nasra is a mother of seven children who is willing to have many more.
“I feel gifted that I have seven children now. I hope to give birth to more in the future because I like having children and will do so for as long as I can. Children are a gift from God. Some people may think that having many children is not right especially when it comes to providing for them which is not a big issue. Allah will provide for me and my children as we do our best,” said Nasra.
Other mothers do not share Nasra’s views in entirety. They explain that it is good to have many children but providing for and guiding them is a great responsibility especially in the case of girls who require extra effort while moulding and monitoring their behavior. Education is a rare and costly service in the conflict ridden country where economic stability is difficult to attain or maintain. Most families are limited to struggling to cater for basic needs rather than seeking the luxury of education. This cripples the future of children.
Fatumo Shire is a married mother who has nine children, six girls and three boys. Unlike Nasro, she suspects it may be unhealthy to bear many children.
“I have nine children most of whom are girls. I am very happy to have so many children of my own despite the problems I face while providing for them. They need education, discipline and basic needs catered for. It is not healthy for me to conceive so soon between pregnancies since the required spacing period is one year at most. This prevents me from pursuing other interests since I am expectant each year. I am not sure if this will create problems for my health in future.”
Regular and endless wars in the country have left many families with single mothers who take care of their children and households with great difficulty.
“I sell meat at the market in Garbaharey and make a little income to sustain my four children because my husband has been away from home for a long time. I heard he is in Kismayo currently and working with the militia group of al-Shabaab,” Khadija told Somalia Report.
“My first pregnancy in December 2010 was a difficult experience. My husband was unemployed at the time and it was a very trying period in my life. He was a laborer and builds houses in the town but since the conflict intensified and drought worsened the situation, there were no more clients to work for. He would wake up early seeking an earning but always come back late in the afternoon with around 40,000 somali shillings which is approximately four dollars," Halima, a 24 year old mother told Somalia Report.
When the situation worsened, Halima feared for her well being and that of her unborn child. They were not getting enough to sustain them and she decided to return to her mother’s house. Her husband later disappeared from the town and news of him joining the al-Shabaab militia spread. Halima was shocked to hear the sad news and shared it with her family. Less than a month later, she was informed of his death and is struggling to come to terms with this.
The greatest concern for these mothers is that their barely grown children are lured and recruited by militia groups. Asha Farah is a mother of two children. She shared her feelings regarding bearing fewer children.
“I have two children, one is seven years and the younger one is four years old. I don’t like when my children are of one year age difference because that will deter them from developing properly. Spacing will enable me to breastfeed each child for two years. I can also afford their upkeep since they are not many and I can spare some money for their education,” she said.
“My husband provides for us. He owns a small retail shop and he sells a variety of goods. One of my children attends school now and the other one is still too young. We are both happy about having a few children who we can care for as parents,”she added.
Almost all women in Somalia do not use family planning or birth control since they regard children as a gift from the creator that should not be controlled. They are assured of their children’s upkeep and do not understand why child birth needs to be controlled.
“I don’t know what birth control actually means. It cannot be good for a woman since children are precious gifts and not everyone is able to get such a gift. Why should anyone control it?” inquires Kadra who is a mother of five children.
Not all women abide by the same ideology. Despite the fact that she does not use birth control, Shadiya who is a mother of four avoids continuous pregnancy and manages to maintain a fair amount of spacing between her pregnancy.
“I have four children now and each is two years older than the other. I like it that way. I don’t use any contraceptive but my husband and I discuss and agreed on when I shall be ready for pregnancy. That way we are able to plan our family’s wellbeing and avoid the problems that mothers face from successive child birth,” she said.
In Somali culture, the man is expected to provide for the family and support the mother while raising the children. However, some women lack this essential support. Due to clan related conflicts, scenarios in which two brothers maybe fighting for warring factions are not uncommon. When men join the fighters and relocate to the the frontline, their families suffer neglect.
Hawa, who is a mother of five children says, “My husband had been away from home since 2009. He used to travel to different places. One day I heard he was in Mogadishu and the next day I also heard he was in another place. He has not been supporting us since then, he claims he has nothing that he earns most of the time. When he earns something he remembers us and sends some money."
This situation varies for mothers in Somalia. Some have lost their husbands to daily crime and fighting incidents, without hope of support. Others are neglected by absentee or demoralized husbands who are unable to provide for their families in an unstable country. These women remain united by a common responsibility of caring for their families and children.
Ebla is a mother of three children who has not heard from her husband in a long time.
“My husband left me when I was three months pregnant and he went to Mogadishu to fight in the ongoing war and I have not heard from him since. I am not sure if he is alive now but I hope so. My brother-in-law searched for him but no one has told us of his whereabouts until now,” she said, “My in-laws assist me by catering for the financial needs of the family, however I am disturbed by my husband’s absence.”
It is a tragedy when a beloved child who has been raised under such difficult circumstances is lured away by warring factions in Somalia.
“I have raised four children and the first two are boys. The eldest joined al-Shabaab in 2010 and has refused to return to me. He lives in Kismayo now. I never expected that after raising him up with such hardship, he would one day fire a gun at another human being. He was 17 years old when they lured him to join them,” said a mother who wishes to remain anonymous.
“I still fear that my other son may join the opposite side. I always talk to him and advise him about his but I can’t help but fear that he too will disappear,” she said.
Despite a multitude of challenges, mothers in Somalia remain resilient and devoted to their children in most cases. The survival of Somali children who may grow to be peacemakers or warmongers depends largely on the nurturing efforts of Somali women.