Meet Nadifo Abdi: campaigning against gender-based violence in Kenya's Dadaab refugee camps

Nadifo Abdi A.K.A Brownkey, is a female activist in Kenya's Dadaab refugee camps, who campaigns against gender-based violence and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). She meets with the community leaders and does household visits in order to make sure this message is disseminated to the entire community. I spoke to Nadifo, and she highlighted for me the scale of the injustice done to girls in the refugee camps...

At birth

When a girl is born, it is seen as a bad omen among Somalis. Some fathers may even go to the extent of saying “better an egg than a girl”. The mother prays her next child to be a boy, or otherwise she may be divorced and receives the title of “Gabdha dhashooy” – the woman who gives birth to girls. A girl’s inferiority is made clear even at this early stage.

At around 4-5 years.

The girl is subjected to the brutal practice of FGM. The parents believe that it will keep the girl from having sexual desires or temptations. She gets nightmares from the women with knives. The girl suffers for months or even years before she can walk again. 

At around 6-10 years.

The girl is sent to school and madarasa and on top of that she does all the house chores, including but not limited to cooking, cleaning and fetching water while the boys go and play with their friends. When the girl asks why her brothers are not doing any workm she’s told it is shameful for the boys to do house chores while their sister is around.

At around 11-14 years.

The girl neither goes to school nor madarasa. She is now told “Waxaa tahay hilib geed saaran” – “you are meat on a tree”, which means the parents have no trust in her becoming a decent girl.

The girl is also forbidden from going out any more. She is confined to her home and she cannot go out with friends or visit the neighborhood, especially after sun set.

It is not long before suitors start pouring into the family asking for the girl’s hand in marriage. And as it is always the custom, the highest bidder, or a man from America or waiting to go to America takes the bride home.  The girl has no say whatsoever in this matter and if she raises her hand, she is told “Far duco ama far habaar” – which means “either accept or be cursed”.

Nadifa Abdi

Nadifa Abdi

At around 15-25 years.

Often, the girl suffers under the man who is supposed to protect her. Most of the time, men beat girls either for fun or because she doesn’t do what they want her to do.

If she escapes and returns to her home, the man comes with some elders and money to soothe the family and eventually the girl is sent back with the man.  People just say “way soo carootay” – which means “she ran from her man”.  Nobody cares what happened if the man paid handsomely to the family of the girl.

Some girls may even be divorced if the man finds a younger wife. In this case, she will be left as a single mother with no future.

At around 26-35 years.

Most of the girls are “garoob” – single mothers who work to feed their children. And now, men say she is worthless/cheap and can be married without spending any penny. Only a few kind men may support her well, the others will just divorce her on a forth night.  They all say “I don’t want to a raise a child whose father is out there chewing miraa”.

At around 36 –  ∞ years.

The girl is no longer a girl. She is lucky if she has children who will take care of her. She is not given the respect she deserves and some men may take advantage of her if she is a wealthy woman.

This is the reality for too many women across Africa and worldwide. Today, on International Women’s Day, let us remember how much further we have to go, and how much more work is needed to achieve gender parity.

For more on Nadifo’s work follow:, and on Twitter @brownkeyAbdull 

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