International Women’s Day: Remittances are a lifeline for women in Somalia

Imagine life without a bank account. Imagine how completing a simple financial transaction would require travelling a distance, incurring expenses, and losing precious income. Imagine not having access to your main source of income faced with a non-functioning banking system.  On International Women’s Day it is worth remembering that this is a harsh reality for many women in Somalia who risk losing their only formal or transparent channel through which to access money.

As Somali families visit their local money transfer office to pick up money from their loved ones in the diaspora, they hang on to the hope that this is not the last time they will receive this money.  Somalia is not only one of the most remittance-dependent countries in the world, it also faces a unique set of challenges in its effort to maintain remittance inflows according to a recent report ‘Hanging by a Thread’ by Adeso, Global Center on Cooperative Security and Oxfam.

With one out of every three Somalis saying that without these remittance flows they would not be able to pay for food, school or basic healthcare, further strain on this vital lifeline would throw many more families into crisis and undermine efforts to foster a stable and peaceful Somalia.  

Suhair Ismail, a mother of five says, “This money is used to cover all their basic needs such as food, water, and school fees for my children. We are fully dependent on the money. Without it we would not survive. You need money for everything”.  In one way or another, women are seen as caregivers, peacekeepers, innovators, providers etc and for them to capitalise on this they need money.  

The impact on women in Somalia as the main caregivers in their families is particularly great. Remittances are often the only funds that women are able to access and control, making them a vital tool for women’s economic empowerment, which in turn boosts the ability of women to claim their social and political rights.  

‘People’s entire lives are dependent on these remittances. This is money that I need to survive on a daily basis. Not only am I dependent on it, but over ten relatives – my entire extended family – are as well. I have sick relatives who need medication, and children that I am trying to provide an education for. This money is vital for that. If I did not receive this money we would not be able to survive and I am scared to even think about what could happen.’  Hawa Warsame.

Studies have found that when women receive and control remittances, they are more likely to invest the funds in overall household well-being through increased expenditures on health, education, and nutrition. This is critical, in particular for women who are relying solely on remittances for family survival. It cannot be said enough times that remittances enable Somali families to mitigate poverty, and, in many cases, remittances help them fulfill their immediate needs for food, shelter, clothing, and other basic necessities.

“Poverty, insecurity, the lack of information, lack of service in rural areas, and the underdevelopment of financial institutions are the primary obstacles to financial inclusion for both women and men in Somalia”, says Dr. Shukria Dini, Founder of the Somali Women’s Study Centre.  However, she further stresses that, “Somali women face additional difficulties in participating in the financial system. Many women lack savings and do not have accounts with MTOs. Somali MTOs and banks have generally avoided providing loans to women entrepreneurs, who, without collateral or savings on their own, are viewed as riskier loanees than men. Also, insecurity has taken a disproportionate toll on women and their business activities and mobility.

The flow of remittances has helped to address some of these barriers. Remittances have multiplier effects for the recipients and their extended families and communities, and are already contributing to women’s financial empowerment in Somalia. It is critical that the flow of remittances continue to contribute to this trend, and that any new technology or delivery systems for remittances take into account the particular needs and perspectives of women.”

Since the start of the civil war, women have taken on greater roles in terms of being providers for their families, starting small businesses and at the same time providing primary care for their children. Some women who receive remittances choose to go beyond the simple day-to-day management of the money and invest part of the resources in income generating activities in order to mitigate the irregularity and precariousness of this source of income. If remittances were to be curtailed, women and their families would bear much of the shock.

This entry posted by Alexandra Chege, Information Coordinator for Oxfam Somalia, 6 March 2015.

Photo: Hawa Abdullahi Warsame with her daughter at their home in Badhan, Somalia. Credit: Adeso

What you can do

Tell the US Treasury to save the #SomaliLifeline!

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Read the report: Hanging by a Thread: The ongoing threat to Somalia’s remittance lifeline

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