Farhia Mohamud Hassan is a young Somali defying the many challenges that young women face when seeking to develop professionally, while also contributing to her country’s rebuilding and progress
MOGADISHU: Somalia is one of the youngest countries in the world, with 75 per cent of its population under the age of 30.
While young people represent the majority in Somali society, continuing unrest, conflict, socio-economic and political exclusion have been obstacles to Somali youth being able to contribute fully to their country’s re-building and development.
Available data suggests that Somalia has one of the highest rates of youth joblessness in the world, and windows of opportunity to engage politically, economically and socially remain weak or non-existent, especially for young women.
Farhia Mohamud Hassan is a young Somali defying the many challenges that young women face when seeking to develop professionally, while also contributing to her country’s rebuilding and progress.
She was born in 1996 in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, in the midst of its civil war. The violence forced her family to flee to Belet Weyne, a city in the north-central state of Hirshabelle.
“I was very young when we left the city in 1996, some months after I was born. The conflict had engulfed Mogadishu and we fled,” Ms. Hassan says.
A decade later, she began her education, starting off in grade four at Belet Weyne’s Sheikh Mohamed Moalim Primary and Secondary School in 2006 and continuing her education there until 2015. There was another move soon after completing her schooling.
“After I finished high school, my family came back to Mogadishu. And I started at university in September of 2015,” she recalls.
Enrolled at SIMAD University, Ms. Hassan pursued a Bachelor of Economics and graduated in 2019. Soon afterwards, she joined a leading Somali stationery company as a sales and marketing specialist.
She relished the hands-on experience of contributing to the firm’s marketing and promotional strategies. But there was a downside too – she experienced a lot of harassment in her interactions with clients, frequently having her appearance commented on and being told that she was too attractive for the job, in addition to receiving marriage proposals from them.
“I was harassed, still, I continued to persevere and work hard. I developed a thick skin and learned to persevere when faced with obstacles and other difficulties,” Ms. Hassan says.
It was not easy, nonetheless. The 26-year-old resigned after less than a year, but landed another job soon after, this time with the European Union Capacity Building Mission (EUCAP) in Somalia as a Finance Assistant in May 2020. But she never got to actually work in the new role as her position was suspended due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on EUCAP’s operations.
“I was disappointed at losing the opportunity to work for EUCAP,” Ms. Hassan says. “But I didn’t let myself feel down for too long. I made the most of the time at home by undertaking several personal development trainings in soft skills like communications and public speaking, as well as religious studies, and even took up Spanish language classes.”
New job, new outlook
In January 2021, Ms. Hassan re-entered the workforce, this time with Somali Public Agenda (SPA), a public policy and governance think-tank based in Mogadishu, where her duties have been wide-ranging.
“At SPA, I conduct research on politics and social issues. However, a lot of the time, my focus is on human resources,” she says. “I contribute to research papers and policy briefs as well, and even though I haven’t published my own individual research papers yet, several are in the pipeline.”
In her work with SPA, the 26-year-old contributed to Somalia’s 2021-2022 parliamentary and presidential elections as an observer as SPA was part of a consortium of seven civil society organisations that made up NALA OGAADA (transl. ‘Let us all know’).
“As observers, we used to issue public statements to inform stakeholders about the election in relation to ensuring that they were conducted in a fair and free manner,” Ms. Hassan says. “I enjoyed observing the elections. It is a way of contributing to the history of my country.”
Ms. Hassan says her responsibilities for human resources at SPA have also provided joy and growth, both personal and professional.
“My favourite part about it [human resources] is interacting with people daily, and this has also given me the strength of character and ambitions to help people more,” she says.
In her spare time, Ms. Hassan blogs. Her preferred topics are socio-economic issues, essays on her travels and personal reflections on what it is like for a young Somali woman trying to build a career in Somalia today, as well as the progress made in Somalia since its vicious civil war.
While blogging may be common in other parts of the world, it is less so in Somalia where the spoken word has long dominated. Somalis developed an oral tradition of poetry and storytelling since at least the 12th century and that has been passed down through generations.
“There is a niche in blogging, and I hope other youths are inspired to embrace it. For me, I write about both personal and societal issues, but one of the things I also try to do through my blogging is change the negative narratives surrounding Somalia. It is high time we express the positive sides of our country and ourselves,” she says.
“I especially advise young girls to write,” she adds. “The more one writes, the more one captures people’s attention and can help change narratives for the better. Somali women, in particular, must embrace the culture of blogging and writing.”
Ms. Hassan began her blogging in June 2021, and she hopes that more young Somalis take up blogging to help put out correct and factual information about their country, and help counter the spread of fake news, disinformation, or misinformation.
“I collect data, synthesise, write and share with people. For me, the process has strengthened my research, writing and thinking skills,” she notes.
Ms. Hassan’s passion for blogging has overlapped with her work at SPA, which organises training workshops on blogging for youth. The training sessions began in 2021 and, so far, 44 young Somalis -half of them women – have taken part in the eight-day training programme, which focuses on planning, drafting and editing skills.
“I help organise these training workshops, and I also edit and provide constructive feedback on the participants’ work,” she notes.
The participants so far have been made up of students and professionals. The training covers the ins and outs of blogging as well as how to get a blog up and running. More sessions are planned.
One of the 44 young Somalis who have taken part is Asia Mohamed, who is currently a senior research officer at Somali Research Development Institute (SORDI) and has set up her own blog site after taking part in the training.
“I benefited immensely from SPA training. I now write about social issues affecting Somalis and have learned to raise my voice through my blogging,” she says.
Ms. Hassan’s blogging skills recently led to her winning a 10-day residential co-creation workshop on blogging and storytelling skills workshop in Rome, Italy. Organised by ArtXchange, a project spearheaded by the International Committee for the Development of Peoples (CISP), whose partners include the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
The workshop was held in May this year and drew participants from across Africa and Europe.
“It was a workshop that focused on storytelling and poetry for peace. It was an incredible experience in which I represented my country alongside two other Somalis,” she says.