Every day, community members across Africa are working towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). In recognition of this year’s MDG week, we will be posting a story each day about how communities are working together to achieve each of these goals, leading their own development from the grassroots.

What does an empowered woman look like?

She is someone who has confidence in her ability to lead. She participates fully in decision-making processes in her home and community. She understands her human rights and is respected by those around her – regardless of gender.

Throughout Somaliland and Puntland there are now empowered women who are taking practical action, alongside the communities who support them, to further Millennium Development Goal 3: to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women.

They start by building understanding that all people – women and men, girls and boys – have human rights that should be respected which they learn through participation in our holistic, nonformal Community Empowerment Program (CEP). During the program, women develop leadership skills, engage in dialogue, and demonstrate their ability to make decisions and solve problems. Men are not excluded. They too develop skills and participate in conversations about gender equality and their role in supporting the empowerment of the women in their lives.

Ubah Abdilahi Hirsi, a CEP participant in Daami, Somaliland shared how these discussions help change her view of women’s rights, “Like many places in Somaliland, there was a belief in Daami that women did not need to go to school. Tostan’s CEP showed me and other women that education is just as much our right as it is a man’s right.  I soon realized that when women and girls received education, social change began to unfold in my community.”

The results were tangible: “The first change happened within my own household,” continued Ubah, “when I began discussing what I learned in the Tostan classes with my uncle – he listened and respected my advice.  Family management became a joint effort for us, which in turn created a more positive family environment.”

To extend the reach of this positive change beyond the family unit, women in our programs in Somalia actively participate in Community Management Committees (CMC) that are created in each community to organize and lead development initiatives. In these positions, women become community leaders and make decisions that affect the sustainable development of their community.

Women in Sheikh Ali Johar in Somaliland mobilized their neighbors to take part in clean-up activities which promote a healthy environment and safety for the children in their community, and in Wadjir district in Somalia, the community is giving shelter to vulnerable women in need of help.

Throughout Somaliland and Puntland, women are taking the lead in organizing awareness-raising events that aim to create dialogue around human rights and the abandonment of harmful traditional practices, such as female genital cutting (FGC) and child/forced marriage. Women and men work together to promote equality and develop new social norms around respecting the human rights and dignity of women and girls and men and boys. 28 communities publicly declared their decision to abandon these practices last year in Somaliland, and this year communities in neighboring Puntland have participated in intervillage meetings with neighboring communities to share information about human rights and health.

Learn more about Tostan’s work to empower women and girls.

Story by Courtney Petersen