Somali Women’s Learning Project
Life in Garissa district in arid northeastern Kenya is harsh, particularly for women. Nearly 300,000 residents of the district are refugees from neighbouring conflict-torn Somalia, who live in five massive refugee camps near the town of Dadaab. The Dadaab camps were established in 1992 after civil war broke out in Somali. Some have been in Kenya for nearly three decades, while others came across the border more recently due to severe drought or insecurity caused by the terrorist group Al-Shabaab.
Although the resident Kenyan population of Garissa district is also ethnic Somali, the refugees are not allowed to leave the camps or mix with the local population. Refugees are registered by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), processed and then placed in one of the camps.
Women do not have a tradition of participating in civil society. Educational opportunities are limited. Gender-based violence, early and forced marriages and female genital cutting (FGC) are common. Radio remains the main source of information for both the refugee and non-refugee population of Garissa, even though radio ownership is extremely low given the tremendous poverty. According to a survey undertaken by UNHCR, only one of 500 refugee women owned a radio. In the male-dominated society, women’s access to the few radios is nearly non-existent. Cell phone ownership is common, however, phones are used for communicating, not for learning.
Thanks to a grant from the Starfish Group, thousands of Somali women gained access to information through our radios. Women formed listening groups and were encouraged to listen and discuss topics that affected their lives. The BBC and the local Star FM, which broadcasts from Garissa, are the most popular channels. A camp radio station also broadcast messages and programmes on interest.
A Collaborative Effort
In April 2008, Lifeline Energy teamed up with the UNHCR, CARE, Save the Children, the National Council of Churches of Kenya, the African Women and Children’s Feature Service, the Pastoralists Journalist Network (PAJAN) and STAR-FM to launch the Somali Women’s Learning Project. Over three years more than 600 women’s groups, representing approximately 18,0000 refugee women, received training on the benefits of radio listening groups and on the operations of the Lifeline radio.
A group of local trainers carried out additional training of women’s groups. The trainers were mainly Somali-speaking journalists, from PAJAN, who not only taught the women, but also learnt from them about the issues they would like to hear discussed on the radio. Some of the groups had a cell-phone and could communicate with the local Somali radio station, Star FM, to voice opinions and discuss topics being aired.
We are still in touch with PAJAN and many of the radios are still operational and are still being used by womens’ groups.