Making Gender Equity a Reality in Somalia

Three women in Somalia

Photo credit: Jeremy Barnicle

Gender mainstreaming is an approach that seeks to identify the distinct roles, needs and opportunities of different gender and age groups and to put strategies in place that will ensure equitable access to services and close opportunity gaps. In Somalia, there are profound disparities between the sexes that start early in life and in this context gender mainstreaming is a critical step toward equity and getting girls to school. Somalia is not an easy place to be female. Few girls are enrolled in school and those that are cite early marriage and household responsibilities as barriers to attendance. Overcoming obstacles to girls’ education is critical because an extra year of primary school education boosts girls’ eventual wages by 10–20 percent. An extra year of secondary school adds 15–25 percent[1]. The Somali Youth Leadership Initiative (SYLI) focused on overcoming these gender inequities with goals around fair education services, and active participation and leadership of young women and girls.

SYLI is a 5-year, $38 million USAID-funded program implemented by a consortium of international and local organizations and led by Mercy Corps. The overarching goal is to help young people contribute more positively and productively to society and build a future generation of Somali leaders by providing 50,000 Somali adolescents with new or improved schools and classrooms, teachers with upgraded skills and tools, and youth with opportunities to participate in civic events and processes. We work closely with the Ministries of Education and Youth to empower young people to engage positively and productively as the next generation of Somali leaders.

The program conducted a gender assessment to deepen its understanding of the factors that influence girls’ ability to access education and engage fully as citizens. Key findings revealed several opportunities for improvement, points the Mercy Corps Somalia team acted on by developing and launching a gender mainstreaming plan. The goal of the SYLI gender mainstreaming plan is to ensure that as many girls as possible can access program-supported schools; that female teachers are trained and hired; and that young women engage actively in civic processes. Part of this involves Mercy Corps taking stock of its staffing structure and internal policies and procedures to ensure that the organizational culture supports the roll out of the plan.

The SYLI gender mainstreaming plan was launched in early 2016 and involved a number of steps, which included: hiring a full-time gender advisor to oversee the implementation of the mainstreaming plan; assigning gender focal points for the Somaliland, Puntland and South Central operations; providing basic gender awareness training to staff; introducing the mainstreaming plan and the roles and responsibilities of staff members in ensuring its success.

Significant progress has been made since this time. Some highlights of the gender mainstreaming plan implementation include:

  • A More Diverse Team. A more intentional recruitment and outreach process has increased the number of female staff on the SYLI team from 6% to 28%. This has significantly boosted the program’s ability to understand and meet the needs of female beneficiaries.
  • Expanded Reach of Girl-Centered Services. The number of Girls Empowerment Forum (GEF) members supported by the program has doubled. GEFs play an important role in promoting girls’ access to education, but had previously been limited in scope. To strengthen impact, the program brought these to scale. GEFs offer a safe space for girls to build self-confidence and critical thinking skills.
  • Increased Voice and Influence of Women in Education Sector. The Central region has advocated for and achieved 50% female representation on parent-teacher committees. The committees are key stakeholders in school management decisions that impact the quality of services offered to students.
  • More Female Secondary Teachers. The Puntland region has decreased female teacher trainee drop-out rates from 28% to 0% by negotiating flexible study schedules for new mothers. Women represent less than 2% of teachers at the secondary level and SYLI is supporting pre-service training for more than 250 women.
  • Addressing Barriers to the Employment of Female Teachers. Mercy Corps is advocating for a national policy on female teacher recruitment that will address discrimination in the employment process. More women in the school system will help to attract and retain female learners at the secondary level.

Achieving gender equality is challenging everywhere, but it’s possible to make progress.  It takes dedication and commitment at all levels. As SYLI’s gender advisor, Edward Buoro, reflects: “The road ahead is long, but these early wins demonstrate that it is possible to move benchmarks on gender equality forward if we work together. A big congratulations to all of our partners for these advancements, which will benefit girls, their families and the communities we serve.”

Learn more about Mercy Corps’ SYLI program here or connect with Jennifer Narron.

Do you have questions regarding gender assessments or gender mainstreaming plans in conflict and crisis settings or experience that you would like to share? If so, join the conversation in the comment section below.

[1] Psacharopoulos, George, and Harry Anthony Patrinos. ‘Returns to Investment in Education: A Further Update’, World Bank. Education Economics (2002) 12.2: (111-34). Retrieved from

Posted in Community of Practice, Understand and Strive for Equity

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