Sahro Ahmed Koshin is a consultant for SIDRA, in Garowe, Puntland, Somalia.
I use social media lots when I have access to it, and in 2015 I was surfing online when I came across a training course on how to do research [from INASP’s AuthorAID project]. I registered and took the training. Then there was another one immediately afterwards. I benefited from the first course greatly, and so when I saw it being advertised a second time, I thought I must tell everybody in Somalia and I announced it to all of my mailing lists, social media. I was like saying, "six days left, five days to go, four...".
That caught the eye of INASP, so they invited me to a conference in Nairobi [organized by INASP and The Rift Valley Institute] to find out more about Somalia and Somali research. I happened to be firstly, one of the few Somalis there, but also the only Somali woman. I was there as a speaker about SIDRA, so I completely changed my presentation to inquiring why there are very few women. I said: "What's happening, we're leaving half of the community, half of the population, we're speaking about Somalis and there aren't many Somalis here, and we're speaking about Somali women, and it's very important to have their input as well in knowledge production."
That raised many, many concerns: where are Somali women researchers, where are Somali women writers, where are the Somali women academics, where are the Somali women intellectuals?
When you publish, you have a greater, a louder voice, than when you speak, because when you speak, you speak to an audience there and then the next minute you are history, another event will happen. But when you write things down, it has the potential to be translated into other languages so that other people, other languages, other language speakers can access your contribution to the world. Knowledge, information, is key.
I got talking with INASP and then the gender project started. This is one of the things that I am most proud of.
I left the Netherlands in 2010 after I had my second Master's degree. I thought, "I am not useful here. I have to go back home, where I am needed, where I feel useful, and where I feel that I am only a part of a greater whole.” That feeling of being part of a whole thing, and that my piece is needed to make it whole and complete, is very powerful in me. I went back to Somalia, and I started working for the Ministry of Education as a gender advisor on a DFID-funded project: Girls education challenge. I was there for five years but it was only when I went to SIDRA that I really felt the absence of Somali women's voices in knowledge production, and knowledge: who's using the knowledge, who's producing it, how it's being produced. It's another way of thinking, another way of looking at things.
I'm very, very proud of the project that we did with INASP, because it had different components to it. There was the component of research but also to go a step further, beyond that, providing tailor-made training to women only. Women thrive when they are alone. This is something that very few people know and that's why many trainings don't succeed; it can never work, mixing men and women [in training] in Somalia.
If you want women to be well-trained in a particular topic, leadership, research, you cannot expect them to be as communicative, as vocal, as argumentative, as men, because there are many issues to consider, personal, political, social and societal. In group dynamics, men dominate discussions.
We had this training course for women only. Then these first women who were trained produced their own articles, how to write an academic paper, and 16 women have today been able to put their knowledge and skills and wisdom from their head and their heart, onto paper. Now you and I can read what's in their heart, and these papers are online, and soon it will be bound into a book, and that has been funded by INASP.
There was also a component of connecting the women to the audience, a larger audience, an international audience, through AuthorAID. And they are now partners, they are now members of AuthorAID, they are getting important information in their emails, they don't have to travel to Sri Lanka, or London. In Garowe, in Mogadishu, they are receiving information that only you and I would have access to because of our advantage, because of our exposure, because of our knowledge of the existence of opportunities. And many of them have applied recently for grants.
We have a community of practice, that I am very, very proud of. I smile when I speak about these things because I have seen the transformation, from these women who came in insecure, with a complete lack of confidence, not knowing about these resources. When you are equipped with knowledge, tools and skills, knowledge, tools, and skills, you can do so much. Many girls come up to me saying, "How did you manage to have a blog? how can I be a blogger?" It's that knowledge transfer, like a domino effect.
You train a women and you are training 10 women, because women have this inborn thing to multiply knowledge, to have that feeling of, "I have to tell others, not just keep it to myself."
And so many, many women have been coming to us, to have access to the community of practice, to become members, to follow the training, or at least have access to the materials we used for training.
One of the challenges we are facing still is to publish. The women have been successfully inputting their articles on Somali media, Somali websites, but we haven't really yet had even one person put their article in a peer-reviewed journal. We don't know how to do that; this is our next step. I've learned a great deal here, and I'm confident that one day soon, we will have our own journal coming from Somalia, where we can capture all these voices that are now fragmented.
I'm looking for a PhD opportunity someday soon, so that I can be a Professor of a women's-only university, which I want to help establish in Somalia. This is my biggest passion. Where I can bring all these various things together, in the right place, in a university.