Saturday, August 09, 2008


Hubbie Hussein Al-Haji grew up in northeastern Kenya in an ethnic Somali community with a long tradition of pastoral living. In this article, Ending Violence in Kenya's Somali Community, Hubbie with her co-founder of Womankindkenya, Hon Sofia Abdinoor, who has since been nominated into the Kenya parliament discuss how they contribute to their society.
Life in NEP Kenya is hard. Men move with herds of animals in search of pasture and water. Women and girls often walk 20 kilometers or more to fetch water and wood for daily living, often at great personal risk in this conflict-affected area.

Conflict has long plagued the region as communities fight over scarce resources for their own survival and their livestock. Much of this tension is increased by political divisions and differences between clans, according to Al-Haji.

And, violence against women is a way of life for too many in her community, Al-Haji says. Almost 99 percent of all Somali women in northeastern Kenya undergo the most severe form of female genital cutting causing life-long ill health and suffering.

This harmful procedure has been considered by many to be a long-standing traditional practice that should not be questioned, especially by women.

“A Somali woman was supposed to be seen and not heard,” Al-Haji says. But as co-founder of the community group
Womankind Kenya, “now I’m being heard.”

Her organization was founded in 1989 to improve the lives of girls and women in the largely Muslim community. The organization runs programs in education, health, water and sanitation, conflict management and peace building. It has opened schools for young girls who have lost their parents to violent conflict or for other reasons, including AIDS.
Womankind Kenya ( Womankind Kenya is an indigenous local non-governmental organization based in the Northeastern province of Kenya with its headquarters in the Garissa Municipality. Founded in 1989 by local Somali pastoral women who were committed to improving the living standards and level of decision making of their fellow pastoral women and the girl child in the province. Womankind Kenya exists to support the most vulnerable members of the community, specifically women, destitute children and poor households of the Northeastern province and to build their capacity, knowledge and ability to take control of their lives. The International Leadership Institute has developed more than ten years of partnership with Womankind Kenya. Members of the ILI have traveled to Garissa to support continuing community programs in the Northeastern province and directed resources to connecting organization in the region including the Garissa Hospital.

An important part of her work has been to raise awareness about the harmful affects of female genital cutting and to combat it. Girls who attend Womankind Kenya’s schools do not undergo the procedure. And, staff members conduct educational campaigns and visit families in their homes to change attitudes about the practice.

One of the primary obstacles Al-Haji faces in her work is that women’s opinions are rarely accepted in the public arena. She adds, “I come from a culture that does not allow men to sit with women, or women to address political issues.”

But her work has made an impact. She approaches clan leaders, mostly older men, to gain their support. "We take them from where they are. They talk about what is good and what is not good. We explain that women are human beings,” she says, and eventually these leaders change their actions, “even if they don't accept it internally.”

Al-Haji joined 14 other women leaders at CEDPA’s recent WomenLead in Peace and Stability training, held Oct. 23-Nov. 17 in Washington, DC. Because of her strong commitment and demonstrated leadership in improving the lives of women and girls, CEDPA awarded Al-Haji with the Ralph U. Stone Memorial Award.

The award, given each year to a CEDPA training participant, was established by the parents and family of former CEDPA Training Director Ralph Stone as an endowed living testimony and memorial to his many contributions to improving women's leadership worldwide.

Hubbie Al-Haji is now back in Kenya, renewed in her commitment to lift up women and girls in her community and bolster them in their efforts to end violence.