The HIV/AIDs in Somaliland: the Social, Demographic Effects



The HIV/AIDs in Somaliland: the Social, Demographic Effects of HIV/AIDS on Somaliland – What should Somaliland learn from the rest of the Sub-Saharan countries to combat the spread and the infection of HIV/AIDS? By Ahmed Isse, Bsc (Hons) and MSc in Social Science.

This study will be serialised on the Somaliland media in the next coming weeks. Key parts of the study will be carried out every Mondays.

In this week’s part 4 of my studies into HIV/ AIDs in Somaliland, it will be looked into gender from the perspective of the Somali culture and its linkage to HIV/AIDS.  I hope you will enjoy reading it, and I will appreciate to have your feedback directly send to:


Gender and its linkage to HIV/AIDs

Introduction to part 4

In this section, the study explores around the gender from the Somali cultural perspective and its linkage to HIV/AIDS. It argues that the Somali speaking society appears to have  one the cultures that viciously violates the basic rights of women. To this end, it violates women rights to sexuality and inheritance.  With this regards, the study looks into these two components that embedded in gender inequality in Somali culture.  Through literature review and interviews conducted, it is evident that the Somali culture entwines with the use of female genital mutilation to arrest the female sexuality.  FGM has also been documented to have denigrated the Somali women to have long and healthy life, as the practice causes physical and psychological ill-health throughout their life cycle. In short, it will explain the pragmatic problems that Somali women face in their homeland and in the UK that has become unbearable to them. The study also looks into the scholars that have argued that FGM and traditional harmful practices lead to HIV and those who have not supported this claim.

Furthermore, the study argues that the Somali culture denies women the rights to land ownership and property right inheritance.  This has been documented to have predisposed women to despondent life. In addition, it leads to break up of family bond. When brothers deny their sisters, their rights to succession to the wealth of their parents get women into poverty and develop metal illness. In many cultures, it was pragmatically explained that poverty coerced women into behavioural risks that could get them infected with HIV. Succinctly, HIV/AIDS is poverty related disease and violates the Somali women to their basic right. A study argues that it should and could lead to myriads of problems to women.

Finally the study contributes to the discourse of the gender that the Somali culture constructed women as wealthy of the family.



4.0 Gender inequality and its linkage to HIV/AIDS


 Why the Somali culture violates with basic female rights to inheritance and to s?


Gender and HIV/AIDs intertwines in many cultures. The Somali gender perspective relation, in specific, traditionally encompassed extremely biased and hostile attitudes towards gender equality. In this section, it is explained to the extent which the Somali culture entrenches gender inequality and its positive propagation to the HIV infection from historical contextualisation. To delineate this causal linkage of the Somali culture and HIV/AIDs interaction, it is important to firstly understand what Gender is. 

Gender refers to the categories of male and  female, but as well as the biological characteristics, which are associated with these categories, “gender” include the norms and expectations regarding behavioural that are associated with men and women in particular societies and at particular times and space. It is therefore a socially constructed category, and as such, changes over time and space.” (Willis, 2011:142)


Therefore, this section will deal with the particular society, which in this case is the Somali speaking people living in the East African countries, including Somaliland, Somalia, Djibouti, Southern Ethiopia and north east region of Kenya. The Somali communities in these areas share the same tradition and culture as well as partaking the same views on gender contextually. This study goes on to explore the extent the Somali culture is divergent or convergent to the spread and the infection of HIV/AIDs. From within the vast Somali culture, two components of relevance to HIV/AIDs from gender perspectives will be focused on: female genital mutilation and inheritance rights.


Within the Somali culture, in most cases, women are denied their rights to succession under the Islamic law and as well as the conventional, specifically when it comes to law land and property right inheritance.    Inheritance is equally shared among the males and in most cases females are excluded (Newman, Symphorosa and Owence  cited in  Vincent, 2006:122), it is argued that when boys grow up, their sisters have no rights to their father’s wealth, these very girls grow up in many traditional cultures, knowing that they are wealth for the family. This is, in a historical perspective, most relevant to the Somali culture in a way that gender has been conceptualised (Kwaar, 1996). HIV/AIDs in the Sub-Saharan African countries explicated as a hunger issue, due to the very reason of the exclusion of rights endowed to women to succeed inheritance transduces them deeply into poverty (Tu¨rmen, 2003) I have questioned the Somali elders on this, in divulging their cultural experience on the subject demystified barring females to succession of property rights it seems clear that this issue fuels hatred, and breaks up natural bonds of affection of brothers and sister.  Further elaborating on its effect on Somali women- it is not about the loss of wealth but feeling of loss of belonging and emptiness. Furthermore, sisters fail to come to terms with the loss of brothers. In conclusion, the study contributes that this practice drives Somali women and girls into states of mental health illnesses that had catapulted girls and women to committing suicide by setting themselves alight. Setting alight among Somali women was a practice in common with all Somaliland speaking women but had never been empirically studied due to the literacy level of Somali and cultural barriers.


As the UNDP argued, the status of Somali women is worse than that of Afghanistan, ranking lowest in Human development index (HDI),  and inheritance rights for women are entwined with the Somali culture (Amaral, 2006). The study strongly argues that the traditional Somali culture by far has been cruel to women as it denies women their basic human rights and capability to lead a healthy life style and enjoyable sexuality (Wadensango, 2011)   . The Female genital mutilation is aimed at primarily the neutralisation of girls and women to have the rights for enjoyment of their sexuality seized from them. However, it is the practice that does not delimit these two components but has been empirically documented to induce a lifelong pain and discomfort that have predisposed women to serious physical and as well as psychological illnesses (Wadensango, Rembe and Chabaya, 2011)


It appears the Somali people wrongly misinterpreted the FGM as a circumcision (UNCEF, 2004); it has been empirically tested to cause shock, haemorrhage, infection, urine retention and much more. The main causal link of mother and child death is caused by soon or later bleeding conflating with infection. Furthermore, during labour, in most episiotomies (a clinical process of clearance which often involves an incision made in the perineum) leads to considerable loss and could result in heavy bleeding and could even cause immense damage to the baby’s head. In the traditional birth, attendants are evident to often fail to suture the episiotomies in a proper way. To this end, the formation of and risks of ulcers and tears to the surrounding tissue, leads to mortality (Sebitloane, 2008).


As discussed above the FGM is an abuse to the rights of women, and the studies linked to lead to HIV infection. Dr. Fathia A Mohammed, who was the president of the Society for Women and AIDS in Africa, conveyed a speech in, The Hague on the world’s Aids day in 1990 in which she mentioned  “In Africa there is more vulnerability to AIDS as result of the delayed diagnosis, greater burden for and lower socio-economics positioning, infibulation has probably become an extra risk factor in the spread the HIV virus by redisposition to formation of small mucosal tear during the intercourse caused by the abnormal vulva anatomy and through high incidence of a*** s***** ******course” (Amaral, 2006).  However, as this could not be supported by other studies (Straus et al (2006)), it eventually led to be discussed on further conference on harmful traditional practises arranged by Inter African Committee (IAC) in the same year. That meeting was held in Addis Ababa and was attended by the regional governments to carry out more studies into causal linkage of HIV/AIDS and harmful traditional practices (Kwaak, 1992).


However, the above explicates how the Somali culture entrenched with FGM, has been horridly gender biased in the past and present. The FGM has also compromised personal dignity. This is supported by a study carried out in the UK into cervical cancer screening, which established that Somali women were embarrassed to come forth, having been genitally mutilated (Copping et al., 2009). However, despite the fact of the severity of the FGM, this practice is still carried out widely in all Somali speaking countries, and studies into the subject by the (UNCEF, 2004) stated that 95% of Somali women have under gone the practice; and 80% of the Somali women in the UK have also been victimised to this practice (Straus et al cited in  Black and Debelle, 1998:2). It was also argued that the Somali women in the UK face extensive complications during labour and this compounded by the medical provisions in the UK, which are not keen to learn about the safety procedures when dealing with genital mutilation patients.


Please follow up part 5 of the study