I am visiting a women’s organization in Jijiga, the capital of the Somali province of Ogaden in Ethiopia. However, it’s not much of a capital!
The town consists of a collection of huts and sheds, along a main street. It takes 10-15 minutes to walk through the centre.
It’s poverty that strikes your eye, here in the town as well as in the countryside. Moving from Oslo to Jijiga is like moving between two worlds.
In the hut or shed of the women’s organization I talk to some women. Several of them are sleeping on mattresses on the floor. I want to know a little about their everyday life.
Hawaia is around 40 years old. She has a red cloth around her, and a similar headscarf on her head. Hawaia is obviously pregnant. She already has nine children, but she has no breadwinner. Her husband was unemployed, and now she is divorced. No, men are useless, she says, they can only make children. Hawaia wants to learn how to sew, and that’s why she comes to the centre. She hopes to sell what she makes, thus earning a small income.
Ibada is 30 years old. She is sitting with a little child on her lap. She is breastfeeding the child. The child’s father is dead. A man promised to marry her and made her pregnant. But the man changed his mind, and now the man is gone. Ibada is afraid of her family, who will view her as an immoral woman. So she cannot go back to them. She sleeps with her child in this room. What will happen to the child which is to be born? She thinks she will have to give it away.
Shamis is an old woman, and is almost blind. The others in her family are dead, and she only has a grandchild. Shamis and her grandchild sleep on a mattress on the floor.
Estabel is her grandchild, a girl aged 12. She doesn’t go to school, because they have no money for that. Estabel has to look after her grandmother, or they look after one another. Previously they lived on the street, but now they’re allowed to stay here.
I ask these women what they want. The basis for a better life! Perhaps they can learn how to sew, so they can get a little income, they think. And they ask if there is anyone who might be able to help.