Empowering women to build peace in Somalia
Quresho Abdirizak is part of a movement of young women and men from the towns of Buufow and Shalanbood in southern Somalia who share a joint goal of a peaceful and food-secure future. She is a youth leader who grew up in Shalanbood.
A short yet perilous seven-kilometre road connects the towns of Buufow and Shalanbood. The once-prosperous agricultural area that produced fruits and vegetables for the region has experienced decades of conflict and destabilization. Just like most parts of the country, the region is severely affected by the ongoing drought. The two communities have had to cope with the increasing scarcity of natural resources from which to derive their livelihoods. This combined with a lack of basic services and limited external assistance compounds their levels of need and increases the likelihood of conflicts.
Quresho has seen firsthand the inter-communal conflict that has frayed the social strands once tying the communities together. Conflicts over water resources, irrigation canals and access to farming areas have been driving a wedge between the two neighbouring communities.
“Two children from the different villages might grow up playing football together, but then due to the situation, as adults they would clash,” said Quresho.
Being part of the movement for a peaceful and food-secure future in the region, Quresho and other youth meet for a “Game Day”, where they use a smartphone game application to identify priorities for investments in critical infrastructure that would promote peace and productivity in an original approach to conflict resolution.
In this region of Somalia, concrete solutions are key. A working footbridge can bring about peace; an impassable river can create divisions.
The Game Day event was part of an innovative peacebuilding project implemented by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), in partnership with the South West State government in Somalia and funded by the United Nations Secretary-General’s Peacebuilding Fund.
Playing for Peace
On the allocated Game Day, groups of youth from both the Shalanbood and Buufow villages were mixed to compete against each other on the “Play for Peace” mobile application, developed by FAO’s implementing partner, Shaqodoon.
“The participants have to work together to advance – they have to talk to each other and learn things about each other. The more you talk with each other the faster you will win through collaboration,” said Ahlam Mohammed, the Technology for Development Coordinator at Shaqodoon.
The aim was to encourage fun, healthy competition between mixed youth groups.
“On Game Day, we worked in groups to promote interaction between communities, finding solutions to the problems of moving safely and freely between the two towns,” said Quresho.
“The beauty of using games is that it brings together elements such as teamwork and competition that work well with peacebuilding. It is bringing people together for a common goal,” said Ahlam.
The winning team is then able to nominate locations that would be repaired through the joint project. As water is often a source of contention between the communities, canal rehabilitation was one of the youths’ top priorities.
For others, the interaction between the youth of the two communities was already a step towards a more peaceful future.
“I actually got to make a lot of new friends here,” said Salado Ali, a youth leader from Buufow. “If I went to Shalanbood tomorrow, I’d meet the friends I made here, and I wouldn’t be a stranger. We exchanged numbers and got along well. We had a great day,” she said.
Empowering women to build peace
Ahlam said it was uplifting to see women leading some of the groups, showing others how to play the game and making decisions. “It was really inspiring for others – particularly other young women and girls – to see women leading groups on the Game Day. It could be life-changing to see that in action,” she added.
Somali culture is strongly patriarchal and based on a clan system. Gender inequalities are sharp, making the country the fourth to last globally when it comes to women’s status. Women are often excluded from political decision-making, and rural women in particular have limited access to education and resources. This situation results in lower food production in rural communities.
“Women in these communities have been historically disadvantaged and excluded, but they’ve also organized themselves across clan lines into groups to advocate for the needs of their families. This project leans into that new development,” said Dimah Abdulkarim, FAO’s Resilience Project Officer.
“Through the Promoting Inclusive Action in Peacebuilding project, which the gamification component falls within, we want to see resource rivalry turn into peaceful joint resource sharing, with both young women and men playing a central role in enhancing social cohesion,” she added.
The game-changing game
Dimah says the real game changer will occur when the women and youth leaders see their peacebuilding efforts translate into tangible outcomes with the infrastructure repair.
“We’re now rolling out infrastructure investments with the support of the Peacebuilding Fund to implement the outcomes of the Game Day,” said Dimah.
For youth leaders like Quresho and Salado, the results of participating in the Game Day are already bringing about change. The villagers are now using a connecting road that they once avoided. They take and sell produce to one another’s villages, and they are sharing a medical facility that is closer to Shalanbood.
“We want to put an end to intercommunal tension and become united, facing our challenges together,” said Quresho.
The game day approach has demonstrated its value in empowering young people like Quresho to be involved in community decision-making processes. These gamification tools have the potential to be employed for peacebuilding, climate-smart agriculture initiatives or improving community early warning systems, across Somalia and around the world.
Source: the FAO News and Media office, Rome
– global bihari bureau