To Be a Somali Woman is to Suffer

I broke down after watching Jamal Osman’s documentary about sex tourism in Nairobi, Kenya. It hit too close to home. We’ve always known. Watching the documentary triggered my deeply embedded trauma. As a Somali woman, my suffering has always had me on auto-pilot. The grief I carry is insurmountable.

I was discussing this with my grandmother. A woman who carried me across borders, checkpoints and even crossfire, so that I could avoid such a horrendous fate. My grandmother once told me a story of how I used to laugh uncontrollably at the sound of gunshots because I thought it was a game. I think about my mom who had to give birth and run for her life the next day.

We survive only to earn 63 cents to the white man’s dollar, face religious discrimination and racially-motivated violence while trying to keep our families safe from over-policing, deportation, and incarceration. We are treated like mules. To grow up as a Somali girl is to learn early that degradation, brutality, and violence were just an accepted part of the experience when coming of age. I’ve received death threats for merely speaking my truth. I am unlearning the shame of existing in this female body. I am living my life with no apologies.

I don’t even want to imagine what my life could’ve been. At 27, I can now afford to safeguard my life from the turmoil and chaos. I don’t believe I was brought here to be a mule or overwork myself into an early grave. The discourse is finally shifting away from victim-blaming to addressing the unnecessary suffering Somali women endure in silence. Somali women are abandoned by absentee fathers who are too busy being sex tourists and luring 15-year old children into further destitution. It feels like I’ve dodged a bullet (figuratively and literally), and I am grateful. But I am also angry at how different my life would’ve been if I didn’t have the right type of passport.

I don’t know how someone could be unfazed by their children living in poverty. I had no idea how bad it really was until I was no longer living in it. I asked my grandmother about her experience. She said it was worse and that she wished child support existed in Somalia. She had to work long hours as a cook to support her three daughters after being abandoned by her ex-husband. How has nothing changed for Somali women in three generations?! Our hardships, sacrifices, and burdens have not changed nor improved.

Somali men are purposefully sabotaging their children’s likelihood of upward mobility by failing to provide a better life. Before you make a post on Mother’s Day about how much your mom sacrificed, just remember that it was never a choice. I don’t want to see Somali women glorified for how much abuse, suffering, and struggle we can overcome.

Go pay your child support, deadbeat.

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