The project aims to improve humanitarian practice by developing an innovative intervention targeting intimate partner violence (IPV) among a Muslim refugee population and delivered in the context of a cultural or community practice. IPV is hypothesized to be the most common form of gender-based violence in humanitarian settings, and has serious social, economical and health consequences, particularly in the context of displacement. This innovation will actively engage the targeted population within the Dollo Ado refugee camps of Ethiopia and assist them to question, challenge and transform norms that may lead to IPV.
As part of our project that aims to transform rigid gender norms and contribute to an equitable and just environment in our target, we want to share a motivating story of one of our field workers to make this innovative project a success and continue striving for gender equality.
Abdulkadir, whose name was changed to protect his privacy, is 34 years old and was born in Somalia. He is married and arrived in Dollo Ado refugee camp seven years ago with his wife, nine children and his mom. When asked about his typical day at home he said “…I do so many things throughout the day with no defined role or responsibility.
In his words: “if I am home earlier than my wife, I fetch water, cook meal, wash my cloth, play with my kids, etc. I raise all my kids telling them to help one another. I raise them by good example as I was raised to be just. On decision-making, our home belongs to all of us and therefore, there is a shared responsibility among all of us. In fact when a stranger comes to our home, the person finds it difficult to differentiate who is who as we all are seen more as best friends than family members. While I am very blessed to have such a family, my heart is broken to see so many of my people living a desperate and unhappy life.”
When asked how others view him, Abdulkadir said he has faced so many unimaginable harsh criticisms and discriminations for being who he is. For example,: “when fetching water from the nearby collective tap, since this task is considered to be for women, being the only male around often the women ask me what I am doing there? Devastated by their constant criticism I wait for hours wondering around until all women are gone so that I fill my jar without being seen”.
Abdulkadir’s commendable view is considered to be despicable to many surrounding him. He told me that “… I am who I am not only because of my sincere desire to be just, but also because it is natural. As a Muslim I have to follow the footsteps of my Prophet who was serving his merchant wife. Hence to have a sustainable and enduring relationship with my wife, I must be me and devote my life respecting her and be an exemplary father towards my kids without being pulled back by the negative rhetoric from my neighbors”.
Abdulkadir also stated: “to those resistant and critics, I always tell them the benefits of my behavior and actions. To women, I ask them to have self esteem. To my relatives, friends and even the religious leaders, I tell them how I have benefited, advising them to give it a try. Despite the difficulties I face to survive in this male dominant society, my aim is to show everyone around me the possibility of improved gender roles as the only means towards sustainable and healthy relationships. I talk about what would it take to go to the kitchen and fetch food as opposed to waiting long until the wife arrives and serves. I talk about the possibility of fetching water as opposed to waiting for the ill wife to do it, which is inhumane by all means. I talk about some of the phrases of the Holy Quran that no one is inferior or superior but equal in the eyes of Allah.”
“After all this, four of my friends are now fetching water with me for over a year. It is hard to convince men, it is even harder to convince women in our community.” According to Abdulkadir, most women in his community feel that they are inferior to men and are submissive. When advised otherwise, they resist or bring culturally motivated phrases and consider you insane. “Violence for example is widespread in our community,” says Abdulkadir, “in part because women see men as those above everything. Many married women cry day and night on their husbands but at the same time facilitate for him to marry a second, third or fourth wife. There are thousands of women with many children, who have the difficulty of getting proper rest but who still want to produce lots of children.“
Abdulkadir tells me that the Somali community around his area faces so many family-related hardships that could have been alleviated had there been an innovative project like ours. “When the issue under my assignment was IPV prevention, I was so excited to be part of this project”, says Abdulkadir about his involvement in our project. “Hence I want to devote my time fighting a community that normalizes violence and a community that adapts the culture of injustice“.
Abdulkadir is the only child to his mom and doesn’t have a good memory of his father who died when he was a baby. His mom is the center of his strength, the best friend he has and the positive role model for who he is today. He said: “my mom alone raised me better than those with both parents and God knows who I would have turned to had my father was around”. Abdulkadir adopted most of his childhood experiences in to adulthood and has planted the seed very well cultivating the fruits wisely. However, he is afraid of the toxic environment out there and said “whatever positive relationship I was building at home may be tarnished one day unless efforts by many parties including WAHA are geared towards justice to all”.
Our take home message is indeed the community selected for our project was the right choice and that if one person faces all these challenges we will face more but that would be our driving force towards success. In conclusion Abdulkadir said:
“The better thing you do to your wife, the better she does and best your relationship is”.