How Somalia’s Climate Crisis is Fueling Gender Inequality

The effects of the climate crisis are felt worldwide; however, its consequences are felt disproportionately. In Somalia, drought due to rising temperatures and less annual rainfall is drastically decreasing crop yield. Not only does a reduced crop yield lead to less food on Somalian tables, but it also means a significant decrease in the livelihoods of many Somalians. 

Where less water is available, this also means less available for livestock production. Livestock is a key driver of the Somalian economy and is many Somalians’ only source of income. In 2021, the exportation of livestock accounted for more than one-fourth of Somalia’s exports

When families see less food, water, and income, they eventually have to choose who gets to eat and drink. In Somalia, males are given priority access to the food supply. In many circumstances, young girls are either taken out of school to work or are forced into marriage so families have one less mouth to feed. 

Forced marriage is a subsection of gender-based violence that has continued to rise in most parts of Somalia. A recent UN report reported that female genital mutilation/cutting between the ages of 15 and 49 is 99.2%. Gender inequality is not a recent development in Somalia.

Consequences of the changing climate in Somalia have only exacerbated gender disparities. In 2019, the International Labor Organization estimated that 73.6% of Somalian men between the ages of 15 and 64 participated in the workforce, while 23.1% of Somalian women in the same age range participated in the workforce.

In the same way, Somalia is also one of the worst countries for obstetric care. According to Our World in Data: 5.08% of women are expected to die from pregnancy-related causes (3rd highest in the world), there are 829 deaths per 100,000 live births (5th highest in the world) and Somalia has a 3.87% neonatal mortality rate (5th highest in the world). The United Nations has stated that Somalia is the 4th worst country for gender equality in the world. 

Another way to see how women are valued in Somalian society is to look at their representation in government and law. In the 2020 elections for the seats of the 11th parliament, Somalian citizens appointed a record proportion of upper house seats to go to women. However, the amount was only 26%. Out of the 295 judicial positions, only two belong to women. 

Later in the same year, the Somalian parliament drew international scorn for the passing of a bill that superseded laws protecting women and children and permitted forced child marriages. Pramila Patten, the United Nations Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, called it “a major setback for victims of sexual violence in Somalia.” Somalia cannot address gender inequality without giving its female citizens the platform to effect change. 

Another problem that plagues Somalia and draws attention away from its social deficits is war. Al Shabaab, a militant group associated with the Islamic Courts Union, was founded in 2004 to help bring order after the collapse of the government under Mohamed Siad Barre. Al Shabaab quickly became viewed as an extremist group and began to draw international attention. 

In 2012, Al Shabaab announced its allegiance to al Qaeda. Al Shabaab is responsible for attacks such as the attack at the Westgate Shopping Mall in Kenya, where they killed 68 civilians, and a bombing of a viewing of a World Cup soccer match which killed 75. 

Al Shabaab continues to maintain a strong presence in Somalia and Kenya and continues to be a main focus of the Somalian government. The prevalence of al Shabaab in Somalia and the surrounding region has left the government’s attention divided and added to the barriers surrounding an appropriate reaction to the changing climate.

Al Shabaab’s presence in Somalia has made it difficult for foreign representatives, diplomats, and reporters to visit the country. Recently, Matt Gutman, a reporter for ABC news, visited Somalia to see the effects of the climate crisis firsthand. In his time there, he was not able to move freely without a police escort because of al Shabaab’s presence in the country.

During his visit, Gutman witnessed a camp provided by Save the Children International. He spoke with Ebrima Saidy, the Chief Impact Officer for Save the Children International, and asked Saidy about the Somalian government’s response to the widespread famine. 

Saidy was very critical of the government still not declaring a national famine exclaiming, “for me, the declaration of famine is irrelevant… look around you, what is this if this is not famine?” 

During Gutman’s visit, he also interacted with several children afflicted by the famine. One, he remarked, was three years old but only as big as a one-year-old. Gutman observed another child was “too sick to eat, too weak to cry.”

With the Somalian government spread thin between Al Shabaab and the newly emerging famine, the aid given by international organizations will be a vital factor in the ability to mitigate the famine’s effects. On Wednesday, September 21st, the United States Agency for International Development pledged 151 million U.S. dollars to assist the citizens of Somalia. On the same day, the United Kingdom’s Development Minister stated that the United Kingdom would pledge 22.8 million pounds toward assistance in the Horn of Africa. Specifically, humanitarian organizations have pledged much of their Somalian monetary aid to local organizations which are working to address the gender disparity and create opportunities for Somalian women.

As the effects of climate change continue to be seen in devastating ways across the world, governments are tasked with finding different ways of adaptation. Olufunke Cofie, principal researcher and country representative for West Africa at the International Water Management Institute, claims that many of the countries experiencing drought in Africa experience enough rainfall throughout the year to provide for their citizens. 

Cofie states that the problem is a combination of a lack of infrastructure, a lack of maintenance on existing infrastructure and a lack of education on how to efficiently use existing infrastructure. The questions remain for Somalia of how to prepare for another drought and how to tackle its gender imbalance.

The contributions from international organizations and other governments are crucial to Somalia’s response to the changing climate and the gender disparity, but there must be Somalia-driven action to turn the corner on these problems. The inclusion of women should be a nationwide priority and the consequences of the climate crisis need to be equally felt and prioritized across the country. 

A successful response from Somalia’s government would involve establishment of institutions and infrastructure. The institutions will protect the rights of women and children, and the implementation of infrastructure will increase freshwater resources and decrease the effects of future droughts in Somalia. For Somalia, international aid has been beneficial, but it only provides short-term solutions. Only when the Somalian government begins to view these issues as preeminent priorities can long-term change be established.


Samuel Agustin

Samuel Agustin is a freshman from Wichita, Kansas studying International Relations. His areas of interest include international development, climate change, and human rights. Before coming to USC, Samuel interned at an anti-human trafficking organization. In his free time, he enjoys spending time with his family and playing with his dogs.