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Education Technical Advisor Ayaan Gulaid speaks about her efforts and hopes for the future of Somali girls

UNICEF/ Pflanz
© UNICEF Somalia/ 2011/ Mike Pflanz
Ayaan Gulaid sits in her office at the Ministry. She is one of a team of Somali professionals who grew up in the West and have now been contracted as consultants to help Somaliland’s education ministry improve its capabilities.

Ayaan Gulaid is one of 10 Somali technical advisors who have returned from abroad to help Somali authorities deliver quality education. She tells Mike Pflanz about her job, and why she left a comfortable life in the UK to work in Somalia.

"My family is originally from Somaliland, from Burao town, but I was born and raised in east London, and I went to school and university in the UK.

As a teenager, I was always heartbroken by Africa’s challenges, politically and economically, and with the level of poverty and disease. I always said I would love to live and work here, especially back at home in Somaliland.

That dream became a reality this year. I’ve been in the field six months now and every morning I have to pinch myself to realise that I am actually back home, doing what I love to do. Every day it’s a blessing to me.

I used to work for a British drugs charity, working with young people and managing their peer education programme.

Here in Somaliland, I am a consultant technical advisor for gender, promoting girls education at the Ministry of Education and Higher Education in Hargeisa, as part of the Integrated Capacity Development for Somali Education Administrations (ICDSEA) programme funded by the European Union and implemented with help from UNICEF.

It is about ensuring they have the resources to do their jobs and to have assistance from advisors like me to give them that little bit more technical know-how to get themselves to the next level in terms of fulfilling their objectives as a ministry.

At the moment I’m really fighting because Somaliland doesn’t have a national gender policy in education. There’re a lot of discriminative practices that are part of the Somali culture towards girls’ education. I’m very proud of my country, I’m very proud of my culture, however in all societies of the world there are discriminative practices that need to be challenged and

The barriers to girls’ education are that boys are prioritised before girls. The stereotypical images of girls’ and women’s roles in society are that they will always end up in the home anyway as a nurturer for children and family: there’s no other way a female can contribute to society as a whole. To me that’s completely false.

So we have to look at how we have equal access to education, equal resources, equal time of the teacher. You have to fight as a woman in Somaliland for your rights. Even coming from the diaspora, I have to fight to be heard and to have my ideas taken seriously.

Sometimes I think to myself, if I didn’t have that label of being a diaspora consultant, if I was another Somaliland woman working within the ministry, would I be taken as seriously as I am today? Sometimes I really do have to question if I would be.

But the uniqueness of this programme, which gives me hope, is that before, international NGOs were doing projects, external to the ministry, but this is an initiative that’s led by the ministry. I’m really hoping that we can change the mindsets of those most influential people about gender equality in education and gender equality as a whole in Somaliland. This is a starting point, a very positive starting point, but it will take a long time.

UNICEF/ Pflanz
© UNICEF Somalia/ 2011/ Mike Pflanz
Ayaan Gulaid with her daughter Sumaya.

It has been difficult to integrate back here since I arrived. I haven’t seen my husband in six months because he is back in London. My Mum and Dad are here, they moved back a few years ago, and my sister, and most importantly my little girl, Sumaya. She’s two-and-a-half.

There are other things I miss. I used to go to the cinema a lot, maybe on a Saturday take Sumaya to KFC as a treat. Being here there’s no such thing. The highlight of the week is to go to one of the hotels here and have a meal. That’s it. I used to love deserts and sweets, but you will not be able to find a decent desert in Haregisa no matter where you go, which leaves you deprived of life’s little comforts.

But every day when I go to work and I see how my colleagues from the ministry value me, and I see how I’m contributing positively, or someone comes up to me and says, Ayaan I’ve really seen a lot of changes within the ministry because of your programmes, all of that gives me satisfaction, and gives me that strength to carry on and stay the distance."



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