Somalia’s women journalists fight for human rights (UNDP)

| July 23, 2023

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The fact that Somalia’s only all-women media house, Bilan, is still in business a year after it was created with support from UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) is a human rights achievement in itself. 

The fact that it is thriving, fearlessly reporting untold stories, is testament to the courage of these young female journalists who operate in the most dangerous media environment in Africa.

Bilan’s staff face hostility and danger on many levels. Their human rights are threatened on a daily basis.The journalists face abuse from those who do not believe women should work in the media. 

When the teams’ youngest member, Shukri Mohamed Abdi, decided to work in media, she had to overcome fierce resistance from her rural community, where the concept of being a journalist does not exist. She and her family have faced threats and physical attacks from groups opposed to her reporting.

The attacks increased when Bilan’s chief editor, Fathi Mohamed Ahmed, became pregnant. People shouted at her as she went to work, telling her to go home where she belonged. Mrs. Ahmed refused to give up and has become something of a trailblazer for women’s rights in the workplace, regularly taking her baby to the office where the journalists team up to care for him.

Somalia’s media environment remains repressive. A 2020 law lifted some restrictions, but failed to meet international standards of press freedom. For eight years in a row, Somalia has finished at the top of the Committee to Protect Journalists’ Global Impunity Index.

Journalists face the daily threat of targeted violence from groups and individuals opposed to their work. Female journalists also have to deal with sexual harassment inside and outside the workplace. They are trolled relentlessly on social media. 

The Bilan team says one of the best things about their all-women office is that it gives them a safe space. It gives them the freedom to pitch and deliver stories that might be shouted down in male-dominated media houses. In addition to facing their own human rights challenges, Bilan has brought important human rights stories that have not previously been told to the public eye. 

Bilan reported on the sexual abuse of young orphan girls during the coronavirus pandemic and how some returned to their orphanage pregnant or with newborn babies when it re-opened after the shutdown. Bilan has also highlighted the rights of disabled people in a story about a school for children living with autism where some of the teachers also have the condition.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Many of Bilan’s stories are uplifting, celebrating women’s roles in business, politics, security, and cultural life. Bilan has reported on women volunteering to work at checkpoints in Hudur, South West Somalia, a cleaner who became a photographer, and a 10-year-old girl teaching traditional crafts to adult women in Mogadishu. 

By freeing up a space for women to report on what they believe is important, Bilan has opened up a different Somalia to local and international audiences. Now that the women at Bilan have the power to express themselves freely, Bilan has brought to the fore fundamental human rights issues in a country where such rights are often abused, forbidden, or ignored.

Photo: UNDP Somalia

This story was adapted from an article published by UNDP, written by Mary Harper. To read the full story, go to: