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International Women's Day Highlights Challenges for Somali Women

Somalia is one of the countries being singled out Thursday on International Women’s Day – a day commemorating women’s centuries old struggle for equality. UNICEF says to achieve prosperity in Somalia women need to be empowered.

Siddharth Chatterjee is UNICEF’s deputy representative for Somalia. From Nairobi, he told VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua the main issues women in Somalia are facing.

“The challenges for women in Somalia are varied and diverse. First and foremost is the most egregious of women’s rights violation, which is the female genital mutilation and cutting. The second issue is the very high maternal mortality rate. A lot of it linked to the fact that there is high female genital mutilation and cutting, but also (to) the basic health care provision, which women need. And as a result, one in 15 women die as a result of pregnancy and childbirth complications,” he says.

Chatterjee outlines a third major issue for women in Somalia. “Then of course there’s the issue that southern Somalia in particular has faced so many natural disasters, starting with the drought, the floods. And now we have a highly unstable situation with the conflict. A large number of women are also as a consequence of this unable to access health services, which in any case are highly limited.”

The UNICEF official says that the key to solving these problems is clear. “What underpins everything is proper education. I think societies evolve when there is an adequacy of education. This is a huge challenge in Somalia. As the good old saying goes: Educate a man, you educate an individual. Educate a woman, you educate a whole family,” he says. Chatterjee adds education is key to proper social development and can lead to peace and reconciliation in Somalia.

Asked how this can be done given Somalia’s current political situation, he replies, “Nothing is impossible. UNICEF in Somalia has worked here since 1972 and has never abandoned Somalia.”