Somalia: Enabling Beledweyne women’s voices in peacebuilding through SMS

By Mohamed Eid, Project Manager, Media Ink

My journey in the field of peacebuilding began with the stark realisation that women’s concerns were often overlooked. This reality is evident in my hometown, Beledweyne, the capital city of Hiiraan State. For far too long, Beledweyne women endured marginalisation and exclusion from active participation in peacebuilding initiatives despite their crucial roles in conflict prevention and peace cultivation.

I have been working under the consortium of the Miisaan programme, which seeks to enhance locally informed transitional justice processes in Somalia and Somaliland. Our baseline study revealed a disheartening statistic: a complete absence of women’s voices in the discourse of peace. The roadblocks to women’s participation were evident: patriarchal institutions, cultural and religious norms, armed conflict and insecurity, and intra-household dynamics all played a significant role. Recognising the importance of cultural and religious norms was key to promoting women’s involvement in peacebuilding. By fostering dialogue and understanding, we aimed to bridge the gap between tradition and gender inclusion. Women’s participation is not a threat to cultural or religious values but a means to enhance the effectiveness and sustainability of peace initiatives.

Driven by this revelation, the Miisaan consortium took action. We launched a radio programme in Beledweyne dedicated to promoting peace and advocating for women’s inclusion in peacebuilding. These radio programmes were designed to educate, raise awareness, and inspire women to participate in conflict resolution initiatives actively. Initially, many women believed conflict resolution was a duty assigned exclusively to men, but the radio programmes gradually changed this perception.

Our engagement efforts initially faced a challenge: a lack of women’s participation and response. However, we persevered, and we observed a remarkable shift over a six-month period. Women’s participation increased from less than 5% to 17%, surging to 25% in the subsequent half-year. The correlation was clear: as we broadcasted more radio programmes, more women stepped forward to join the conversations using the SMS platform.

In my seven years of working in this field, this was an unprecedented change. It marked the first time I witnessed women who were both eager and more receptive to taking an active role in peacebuilding. We initially attempted to collect their opinions through traditional focus group discussions, which, unfortunately, did not yield the desired level of engagement from women. However, when we shifted to the SMS platform as our primary mode of communication, we observed a remarkable transition. This shift underscored the power of text messages to directly engage and empower women in our peacebuilding efforts, leading to a significant increase in their active participation.

This transformation is a testament to the power of dialogue through text messages and its potential to drive advocacy. As we continue with the Miisaan programme, we anticipate further progress. We expect to see a continued increase in women’s participation in peacebuilding initiatives, which will undoubtedly play a pivotal role in reducing conflicts and fostering lasting peace.