By Fatuma Noor
Friday, July 30, 2010
The first female Somali district chief in Northeastern Kenya has fled her district in fear. Male elders outraged by the idea of a woman presuming to political leadership threw stones at her and made life unbearable. It's dangerous where she is now too.
NAIROBI, Kenya (WOMENENEWS)--Before she sought refuge two months ago at the compound of her provincial district commissioner, Amina Muhumed Sirat tried to carry out her duties as the first district chief of Meri, in the northeastern part of Kenya.
She would wake up before 6 a.m. to tend to household chores. Then the 29-year-old Somali would don her uniform and get to the office by 8 a.m., where she would help members of her district resolve disputes involving family, business and land matters. Some days she would officiate at a public function.
But two months ago--10 months after her appointment in July 2009--she gave up and fled the persistent hostilities of the male elders in her community; men who had known her all her life. They would throw stones at her when she tried to walk along the street or carry out an official function.
"One time, around 1 o'clock while I was going to the mosque, I had the young men throwing stones at me after they were told by the elders that I'm cursed in the community," said Sirat.
The district commissioner's compound--300 kilometers away--became the temporary refuge for herself, her husband and their young son. She does not even dare visit the division she is supposed to administer.
"They have chased me and I am not even allowed to step in the region I am representing," said Sirat. "It's just a cultural thing. The elders don't want to hear anything about my being chief, saying that they would not sit and listen to a woman talking to them."
Sirat's province in Northeastern Kenya, one of the country's seven administrative regions, is dominated by ethnic Somalis who are Muslim.
In this community, Sirat says, most men think women's place is in the kitchen, not political office.
The Habasweini division where she has sought refuge is also a threatening place for her.
At Habasweini--where Sirat says she does nothing but try to keep safe--her life has been threatened twice. Once her house was invaded and everything inside destroyed.
"Luckily my child and husband were not around because they would have been hurt. Another time while just walking around the DC's location I was stoned by young men," said Sirat, who rarely ventures outside the district commissioner's compound.
"People point fingers at me in the street, in the mosque, they whisper. Neighbors tell my visitors that I'm cursed and bad luck," she said.
District Commissioner Gabriel Ochuda, 46, says it is still a taboo among the Somalis for a woman to lead. But he says he is doing what he can to change that.
He says he has been engaging the hostile elders of Sirat's community and trying to persuade them to accept her as their chief. He said she is very qualified to do the job.
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