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.
Abdi Noor Abdi, an elder in Sirat's Meri district, says women in leadership positions goes against Islamic teachings.
"For a man it's different because there is no time that we are going to take maternal leave. Whereas for women they have to and they have a lot of responsibilities at home," he said.
Sirat graduated with a diploma in community development from the University of Nairobi in 2007.
For some the degree represents a ticket to well-paying jobs in government or the private sector.
But Sirat says she wanted to give back to her community of about 30,000 people. She opted to join the provincial administration. Having grown up there, she thought she understood the problems of the people and she wanted to make a difference.
"I decided to work where I will have a say in policies I believe in," she said.
She landed the chief's job after a competitive interview conducted by provincial administrators.
"It's hard," said Sirat. "I'm at a place that I don't know a lot of people except my husband, son and the district commissioner. I would love to go home."
She says her parents, who encourage her to succeed, have also been estranged from their friends.
Muhummed Duale, Sirat's father, was visiting his daughter at the compound when Women's eNews was there for the interview. He says he worries about the high price she is paying for trying to break a cultural barrier like this.
"Despite being happy for Sirat's achievement, I'm scared for her life. I want her to live a normal life but she can't do that as long as she remains a chief," her father said.
He says that according to Somali culture, a woman is not supposed to hold any public office, but that some aspects of his culture are outdated.
Sirat's husband, Nuno Abdi Sirat, is an army officer. During the Women's eNews visit, he was away on work and Sirat's sister-in-law, Abdia Abdi, was helping to care for the couple's young son.
Even though she is not on any active duty, Sirat dresses in her official khaki uniform-- a long skirt and black headscarf with a beret on top.
"I'm decently dressed, I don't wear tight skirts and I do cover my hair," Sirat said. "And I still do my wifely duties, getting home early to take care of my son and my husband."
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Fatuma Noor is an award-winning investigative Kenyan journalist who works for The Star Newspaper in Nairobi. She covers human rights stories and refugee and women's issues.
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