In commemoration of International Day of the Girl, the Hawa Feminist Coalition organized an event attended by some key young feminist activists and members of the Hawa movement. The event was held on the afternoon of October 10, 2023, a day before October 11, which is a day annually observed to advocate for the full spectrum of girls’ rights.
On this occasion, the young feminist activists focused on early marriage and how this has affected the lives of young girls in Somalia. They discussed and talked about the root causes of early marriage and the effects this has on Somali girls. This has been a sustained norm for parents to marry their daughters at a young age, partly in the belief of a better life but also due to poverty and gender inequality. Apart from the gender inequality that is deeply rooted in Somali society, there are other factors behind early marriage, which include economic burdens and poverty, as families take bridedowry as income in the marriage of their daughters.
This miserable practice has only increased in recent years, mainly as a means for families to reduce their economic problems and as a matter of survival. The everlasting conflict and political instability are also other factors that greatly contribute to early marriage. The worsening climate change, and repeated droughts in Somalia are also other drivers greatly contributing to the increase of early marriage among young girls in Somalia.
These multi-generational and gendered norms remained a means of ensuring family honor, securing economic stability, or controlling female sexuality. In the rural Somalia community, 9–15-year-old girls usually drop out of school early. Social norms and gender stereotypes mean that girls are not encouraged to stay in school, with the belief that marriage and child rearing are the only options available to them and should be their only aim in life. There is also a belief in the Somalia community that girls who stay in school and complete their education will find it harder to get married.
“I want people to know that just because I’m a girl doesn’t mean that I’m less favored. People should understand that we have the same capacity as boys and can do better than them if equal rights are given.” Said Sumaya Shirdon, young feminist activist and a senior member of Hawa Feminist Coalition.
“There are many girls who are not as brave as I am, but I like to appeal to all girls in Somalia to not be silent about the problems they are facing. If you don’t speak up and claim your rights, no one will speak up for you.” Said Fatima Farah, a young feminist activist.
The effects of early marriage undermine girls’ and young women’s health, psychosocial wellbeing, and overall quality of life. Early marriage could also lead to other high-risk behaviors, such as smoking and alcohol consumption. Ikran Hassan, a young feminist activist, briefly presented a study that she had conducted earlier, which shows that more than 50% of the young women addicted to drugs and chewing Khat in Somalia were married at a young age.
Days before the International Day of the Girl, there has been a young woman suffering serious mental illness as a result of being physically and sexually abused by her husband. This news was widely circulated on social media, which saddened the Somali people. This is a prime example of the effects of early marriage among girls and has been a good example that attracted many people who condemned the practice and called for a total ban on early marriage in Somalia.
“If you visit the mental health centers across Somalia, you can see many young women suffering mental problems as result of early marriage.” Said Amina, a young feminist activist and MPHS worker.
“I encourage every girl who faces the consequences of early marriage to stand up for saving other girls from this kind of evil practice. Don’t stay silent on these atrocities against girls.” Said Fosia Dahir, a young feminist and member of Hawa Feminist Coalition.
“I ask every girl to share her story publicly; this is the best way we can stop the early marriage practice in Somalia.…..” Said Mariam Abdullahi
This was significant occasion marked the rise of young feminist activists who vocalized their firm opposition to early marriage and demanded the immediate end of such practices.