Burcad badeed. The Implications of Piracy for Somali Women

Imagine you are a wife whose husband is a fisherman in a small coastal town in war-torn Somalia. Due to the above-described situation, your husband and his fellow fishermen find it difficult to fish, as the marine resources are taken by these external entities. This directly affects you as woman, a mother and a member of that particular fishing community because the little income and food generated from fishing supports the basic food basket of your family and other families.

by Shukria Dini

Excerpt from the article

Piracy and Gender: What is the Connection?

In what ways are Somali women affected by the ever-growing piracy as well as the resources generated from such illegal activities? How does piracy affect Somali women's livelihoods, socio-economic status and their overall security? Piracy off the coast of Somalia and the resources generated from such activity is not only a gender issue but also produces gendered outcomes for women and girls. Imagine you are a wife whose husband is a fisherman in a small coastal town in war-torn Somalia. Due to the above-described situation, your husband and his fellow fishermen find it difficult to fish, as the marine resources are taken by these external entities. This directly affects you as woman, a mother and a member of that particular fishing community because the little income and food generated from fishing supports the basic food basket of your family and other families. Then, these fishermen, including your husband, take up arms and try to scare off the foreign fishing boats. As a woman, this can affect you, particularly, if your husband loses his life in the ordeal. You will be left with the responsibility to care for your children without the support of your husband. If your husband survives the piracy, he may become part of a scheme where ships carrying out goods are hijacked and ransom are demanded in which millions of dollars are paid to the pirates. This ransom is divided among the pirates including your husband. The money could provide needed resources for your family, but on the other hand, it may adversely affect your relationship with your husband. You may not see a penny of this money. He may spend the money on himself including using it to chew qat (Catha edulis). 

The World Health Organization classifies qat as a drug of abuse that can produce mild to moderate psychological dependence. More likely, he will take another young wife and this may affect you and your children as resources are diverted to his new family. If you express your misgivings about him taking another wife, you will be likely divorced and abandoned by your husband. Piracy is a crime committed by men and these men are members of specific families and communities. It is through their memberships and linkages with individuals including their wives, children, parents, siblings, relatives and community members that their actions and the outcomes of their actions affect their families including women and children.

Women in Somalia are directly and indirectly affected by piracy especially when their male family members are the ones who are doing the piracy off the coast of Somalia. They are affected when these pirates perish in the sea and whenever they are captured by foreign navies and brought to justice outside of Somalia. Piracy affects the emotional and mental well-being of those who have close relationships with the actual pirates whether they are husbands, sons or fathers. Moreover, piracy can disrupt international trade and may impact the delivery of humanitarian aid to the Horn of Africa. This has direct and indirect dramatic effects on the well-being of Somali refugees and internally displaced women and their families who not only constitute the majority of this displaced population but also those who heavily depend upon humanitarian aid for their basic survival.

The absence of a gender analysis of piracy in Somalia has inevitably led to the formulation of gender-blind and non-gender inclusive solutions to combat this phenomenon. All of the anti-piracy strategies so far established exclude Somali women from playing a relevant role within the affected communities; both local and international actors involved in resolving piracy in Somalia have overlooked Somali women's potential contribution in dissuading their male relatives from piracy activities. Analyses of the effects of Somali piracy have focused more on its disruption and its criminality on global goods and international ships and less on the effects on the Somali people who are victims of piracy not only in terms of livelihood, through the loss of traditional fishing activities, but also in terms of social relations, gender relations in particular.

First, piracy and its specific gendered ramifications are ignored and second, both the proposed military force solution and the ransom payment strategies used by companies have failed to address the root causes of piracy in Somalia. These strategies also perpetuate the socio-economic situations for Somali women whose rights and dignity are violated by the pirates whose crimes are rewarded with large sums of hard currency. This money, rather than alleviating the burdens of Somali women and girls, creates problems, thwarting their attempts to persist in a hostile and insecure country. Thus, I also argue that the past as well as current international discussions on piracy have overlooked its effects on Somali women living in the affected areas.

Additionally some of these discussions have not been inclusive and have been held outside Somalia, and have led to the formulation of resolutions intended to respond to the piracy problem in the region. The use of force by the international navy vessels was authorized to fight piracy off the coast of Somalia. In this brief paper, I examine and highlight some of the specific ways in which piracy off the coast of Somalia affect Somali women. I argue that piracy is a criminal activity which is detrimental to Somali women's well-being and it is of paramount importance to provide a gender analysis. This will enable us to understand and grasp the gendered ramifications of piracy and also place gender at the centre of all the proposed efforts intended to solve piracy. 

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Table of contents:

  • Introduction
  • Understanding the causes of Somali Piracy Piracy and Gender: What is the Connection?
  • Piracy and Marriage
  • Piracy and Sexual-Exploitation
  • Piracy and Insecurity Conclusions

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