Don’t people ever get tired of shaming Somali women into accepting struggle love, policing our choices and restricting our autonomy? This is a conversation that needs to be addressed. When we talk about choices, we must also talk about access. Access to birth control, a safety net, supportive community, and resources are incredibly important. Our choices are impacted by race, gender, education, income, and citizenship status.
Every Somali woman should have a “f*ck off fund” of at least $15,000. If you live in a major US city, you’ll probably need 20K to leave safely. F*ck off funds ensure your ability to leave an abusive relationship. Our mothers and grandmothers were trapped in their abusive marriages because they couldn’t afford to leave. Now, with student loan debt, rising cost of living and a gender/racial wage gap exacerbated by diminishing legal protections for women, it’s becoming more difficult for women like myself to leave. It’s incredulous how I face similar barriers as my mother and grandmother despite living in a completely different country and era. Patriarchy defies borders, time, and notions of progress.
In college, I took a class on reproductive politics that changed my life. We learned about how the pregnancy discrimination act fails to protect low-income pregnant women who risk miscarriage while working strenuous jobs. I learned about how birth control was tested on poor Black/Brown Puerto Rican women who were not advised of the life-threatening repercussions. I also learned about Black and Latina women being forced to undergo sterilizations in the 70’s and consequently threatened with losing their benefits if they refused. The United States has a gruesome history of violence against Black women’s reproductive rights. We are 3-4x more likely to die during childbirth because of medical racism and neglect. We do not have guaranteed (paid) job-protected leave to care for ourselves and a newborn.
Having access to choices is an immense privilege. My employer’s insurance covers my birth control for free. I’ve had access to exposure which has enabled me to draw these intergenerational and intersectional parallels between myself and my foremothers. These conversations are crucial to have because they explore how our identities (race, gender, income, citizenship status) interact with systems and institutions (education, healthcare, law, and immigration) and how those outcomes can become detrimental. I am shortchanged in nearly every area of my life: I am paid less for the same amount of work, receive subpar medical care, and I’m overburdened by my caretaking responsibilities.
My socialization as a Somali girl consisted of putting everyone before myself. Being career-oriented and self-interested was frowned upon because my actual purpose was to serve people. I often felt like an indentured servant. I grew up believing my life was going to be derailed and there was little I could do about it. My dreams of becoming a professional writer and world traveler were shunned in favor of being overworked and underpaid. How is my desire to be free more harmful than the havoc men leave in their wake? Patriarchy tells women that the comfort of men supersedes our career goals, ambitions, and happiness. I’ve dealt with a lot of guilt for choosing myself, but I refuse to allow this guilt to keep me from living the life of my own choosing.