Dr Maryan Qasim, former Somali Women’s Minister, speaks at The Labour Party’s Annual Conference, 2011

Dr Maryan Qasim, former Somali Minister for Women and current adviser in the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia, Speech to the Labour Party’s Annual Conference

26 September 2011

Maryan Qasim is a medical doctor and a humanitarian and has worked as an obstetrician and gynaecologist as well as a University lecturer, scientist and school teacher for over 15 years, living and working in SomaliaYemen, the Netherlands and Britain. She is the former minister for women’s development and family affairs, and is an adviser in the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia

Good morning  Ladies and Gentlemen. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk to you today about this very important topic.

As many of you know, the current situation in Somalia and the Horn of Africa is very desperate. I arrived in Mogadishu last year after an absence of more than 20 years. My memories of Mogadishu are those of a vibrant beautiful city full of life and hope. You can imagine how shocked I was when I went back home and found the city I loved lying in ruins. My heart broke as I travelled through a city full of ghostly buildings and children aimlessly wandering around with hardly any clothing or shoes.

Mogadishu has turned into a living hell for its inhabitants.  Lives, communities and the traditional way of life of all Somalis have been destroyed. But the decades of conflict have been especially harsh for the women of Somalia. With the enduring conflict all the normal structures and customs of Somali society have broken down, with women taking the brunt of disease, conflict and poverty.

In this situation, and during Somalia’s disintegrating over the past 20 years, women have become the heads of the household. They have become the main breadwinner of the family looking after the children, as well as trying to earn an income. They have played a vital role in the most dreadful period of their country’s history especially in the social and economic sectors of the society.

Amid this desperate situation there are many tales of determination and survival. I saw many women selling tea in the streets, determined to make a living for their children. I saw children making a living for their families by cleaning boots and shoes on the streets. And I thought, if only there was some kind of peace, the people would survive and work their way out of poverty.

Now in this desperate situation came the droughts. But from what I saw on the ground, the droughts did not occur over night. It was a gradual process and the situation was already critical in 2010. While I was in Mogadishu thousands and thousands were arriving in the city. The camps were full, child graves were all over the place and yet the hungry kept coming.

The good news is that a lot of aid has arrived however, the sad reality is that the worst hit areas are almost impossible to reach as these area’s are controlled by Al-Shabaab militia’s.

I expect that soon the media will move its attention from the region and it will no longer be headline news. But that does not mean the famine is over. Far from that, the worst may still be to come with the predicted rains season. Thousands and thousands in Mogadishu alone do not have any shelter and this could add to problems of diseases outbreaks among a people already weakened by hunger.

I would say the main issue facing Somalis is the lack of security and stability. The solution is not to just pump in aid money and food, though of course that is a priority at the moment. But the long term solution is for Somalia is to regain its stability, for farmers to sustain their families, for the Somali government to be able to plan ahead droughts response so another famine does not occur.

Finally, I want to thank the British people for their generosity and I would like to add that the British government can help in strengthening and empowering the Somali government. And Of course us Somali’s need to finally reach an agreement.

Thank you for your time.

About Maryam Qasim

I am a medical doctor and a humanitarian activist. I have worked as an obstetrician and gynecologist, which is my specialty as well as a University lecturer. I also obtained a Masters in Public Health from Warwick University. During my time in the diaspora, I worked on empowering women and raising the achievements of Somali children. I worked with local schools/authorities as well as presenting at national and international conferences dealing with family matters. I am very active in the Islamic field, giving Islamic lectures at Masjid’s, conferences, universities and summer campings. I served as the minister for Women’s Development and Family Affairs in the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia (2010-2011). I am currently the chair person of Tayo party which is a political party striving for equality and justice.
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