In Memoriam: Personal Tribute to H.E. Khadija Mohamed Diriye

In Memoriam: Personal Tribute to H.E. Khadija Mohamed Diriye


Today, we mourn the untimely departure of a remarkable leader, Minister Khadija Mohamed Diriye, a beacon of strength, compassion, and a tireless and outstanding advocate for women and human rights. Her sudden passing leaves a void that cannot be easily filled.


Minister Diriye’s commitment to the betterment of society was evident in every step she took. Her tenure as the Somali Minister for Women and Human Rights Development was marked by unwavering dedication, grace, and a deep sense of responsibility. She tirelessly championed the cause of equality, leaving an indelible mark on the path towards a more just and compassionate world.


Beyond the corridors of power, Minister Diriye touched the lives of many with her warmth and kindness. Her legacy extends far beyond the titles she held; it resides in the hearts of those who experienced her unwavering support and encouragement.


My personal interactions with Minister Diriye were a testament to her indomitable spirit. In my role as the UNFPA Country Representative in Somalia, she easily stood out as my first interlocutor with the Somali public, and a dynamic force advocating for the emancipation of women, gender equality, and empowerment. In our numerous meetings, her energy was infectious, and her passion for the cause radiated in every discussion. In those precious moments, she expressed heartfelt gratitude for the support provided by UNFPA in her unwavering pursuit of women’s rights and human development.

With Minister Mohamed Diriye and colleagues.


Minister Diriye’s genuine appreciation underscored the collaborative spirit that defined our working relationship. Her acknowledgment of the collective efforts served as a poignant reminder of the impact that sincere collaboration can have on advancing noble causes.


What remains etched in my memory is our last encounter, merely six days before her untimely departure. Despite her ailing health, Minister Diriye sought a meeting, and came to the compound. It was her first visit to our new office complex. Her unwavering dedication to the agenda she held dear was palpable. In the confines of my office, alongside esteemed colleagues from UNICEF and UN Women, she painted a vivid picture of her dreams and hopes for the empowerment of women. It was a poignant reminder of her resilience and unwavering commitment, even in the face of personal challenges. During her visit, Minister Diriye shared her thoughts, aspirations, and dreams with an enthusiasm that transcended the challenges of her failing health. Her determination to make every moment count, to advocate for women’s rights and the passage of the Sexual Offences Bill, was palpable. Despite knowing the uphill battle she faced, her spirit remained unyielding. In those precious hours, Minister Diriye exemplified resilience, strength, and an unrelenting commitment to the causes she held dear. As we bid farewell, let us not only mourn her passing but also celebrate the vibrancy of her spirit, a spirit that continued to shine brightly until her last moments with us.


As we remember Minister Khadija Mohamed Diriye, we must also acknowledge her unwavering commitment to the advancement of legislation that safeguarded the rights and well-being of all. Her passion extended to a significant piece of legislation, the Sexual Offences Bill, a testament to her dedication to the cause of justice.

Minister Diriye’s fervor for this bill was palpable. She envisioned a future where the rights of every individual, particularly in the face of sexual offences, were protected by law. It was under her watchful guidance and commitment that the first version of this bill took shape from the Ministry. Tragically, Minister Diriye’s journey ended a day before a significant milestone she eagerly anticipated. In our conversation last week, she was very hopeful, committed and determined that the Bill would go before the Cabinet for approval ‘next week’, and had planned to celebrate that milestone with us the following week. Despite the reluctance of myself and colleagues, she insisted that we must come together for an end of year party to celebrate the advances and achievements we have attained this year. Her dedication to ensuring the realisation of this legislative milestone serves as a poignant reminder of her tireless efforts and unwavering advocacy for justice.


In a touching conclusion to our last meeting which I earlier referenced, Minister Diriye, probably foreseeing the significance of the moments captured, insisted on taking several pictures. Her request to infuse action into the photos was symbolic of her desire for tangible progress. Little did we know that these captured moments would become cherished memories, a testament to her foresight and the vibrant spirit she brought to every endeavour.


As we pay tribute to Minister Khadija Mohamed Diriye, let us carry forward the torch of collaboration, appreciation, and action that she so passionately championed, ensuring that her aspirations for a more just and equal society are realized. Minister Khadija Mohamed Diriye’s legacy lives on in the pursuit of a better world that she so ardently championed.

Niyi Ojuolape is the UNFPA Resident Representative in Somalia

Securing the rights of Somali women and girls through legislation: Reflecting on the Somali female MPs’ study tour in Nigeria

Securing the rights of Somali women and girls through legislation: Reflecting on the Somali female MPs’ study tour in Nigeria

President of the Nigerian Senate, H.E. Godswill Akpabio [in blue] with a section of the Somali delegates (Photo: YouthHubAfrica, 13-Nov-2023)

Between 13-19 November 2022, Somali female members of parliament (MPs) embarked on a study tour to Nigeria. Facilitated by the United Nations Population Fund in Somalia, the visit aimed to foster collegial bond and knowledge exchange on the legislative experience in both countries. I arrived in Nigeria together with the highly enthusiastic members of the delegation with two primary objectives. The first was to understand how Nigeria was able to pass bills on gender-based violence and other gender-related bills. The second was to share experiences and compare notes and learn from each other in the process.  

Given our aim of achieving this relational dialogue and learning, the choice of Nigeria was natural. This is down to several commonalities between the two countries. Though Nigeria is a much older democracy compared to Somalia, both countries share cultural, religious, and social similarities. Nigeria has also dealt with issues of women rights where religio-cultural pushbacks have posed a stumbling block to legislation. However, these hurdles were eventually overcome through concerted efforts from civil society organisations, development communities and federal legislators. Nigeria also made for a revealing case study because we share a similar governance structure; a bi-cameral legislature at the federal level and unicameral legislature at the state level. Importantly also, both countries share similar challenges in combating terrorism and dealing with humanitarian situations. 

Our tour was marked by high level visits to the Office of the Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representative (HoR). The Senate President, Godswill Akpabio warmly received the 15 visiting female MPs drawn from 54 members of the Somali House of the People and 14 members of the House of Senate. He hailed the visit as a critical development that must continue because “we share the same objectives of ensuring good governance and prosperity,” were his exact words. 

The Office of the Speaker equally welcomed the team in a meeting chaired by the deputy speaker, Hon. Benjamin Kalu. Acknowledging that Somalia had more women representation in its parliament than Nigeria, he remarked that 13 out of 16 women MPs are chairing various committees. In effect, Somalia could show the way on how to increase female representation in parliament while Nigeria presents a worthy example of entrusting leadership positions to women in parliament. Interestingly, the deputy speaker went on to propose the possibility of establishing a Nigeria-Somalia MPs Association to cement the friendship and dialogue between both sides for the strengthening of constitutional democracy, legal protection and freedoms for all.

That said, there were more dialogue opportunities with legislative and gender advocacy organisations in Nigeria. The National Institute of Legislative and Democratic Studies (NILDS) hosted the delegates where the director of the institute, Prof. Abubakar Sulaiman offered to partner with the MPs to expand their capacity through training and related resources. Our visit to the Women’s Rights Advancement and Protection Alternative (WRAPA) was an equally instructive and encouraging experience. Welcoming the delegation, the Secretary-General of WRAPA, Saudatu Mahdi praised the MPs for their courage in being part of the political decision-making by putting themselves forward. As the leader of the delegation – Hon. Zamzam Ibrahim Ali noted that the experience of female politicians as well as the perception of women in both Nigeria and Somalia were likely similar, making the dialogue not only timely but something that should carry on into the future. The Secretary-General of WRAPA presented an incisive account on the challenges witnessed in Nigeria’s attempt to push through its GBV law. “It took 14 years to get the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act to be passed in Nigeria” she remarked, while noting the lessons learnt from the arduous advocacy involved. Overall, there was a lesson to reflect on regarding the anticipation of pushbacks by and the influence of cultural and religious gatekeepers. In the Nigerian case, she concluded, it has taken over a decade of research and constant dialogue with religious authorities to convince them that the rights of women are not at odds with Islam. But progress has eventually been made, and that is what truly matters.

Further, I was honoured to have moderated a session at the United Nations House, Abuja, which brought together members of UNFPA-Nigeria and UNESCO-Nigeria leadership, as well 14 CSO and NGOs who have played their part in pushing gender advocacy at the federal and state level. The enriching discussions that took place touched on how daunting gender advocacy can be and the importance of never relenting. 

There were opportunities for informal discussions facilitated by the Senate Committee Chairperson on Women Affairs, Senator Ireti Kingibe who hosted the delegates at her residence. It was an opportunity to deliver the unique blend of Nigerian hospitality and culinary experience. Also, there were television and radio interviews, which gave the Nigerian public a peek into what brought the delegates to the country. Speaking on the Voice of Nigeria (VON) radio programme, Hon. Nadia Saleh Abdi, who is chairperson of the social committee (House of the People, Somalia) mentioned that their visit has lived up to their expectations. Hearing from CSOs, NGOs and parliamentarians themselves on how they worked in tandem to move bills forward was one of the highlights of their visit, she noted. 

Further encouraging on this mission was that every organisation or state institution that we held a dialogue with assured us that their doors were opened for more substantive discussion on the particularities of the Somali condition. On their path, the delegates relayed their keenness on inviting their legislative colleagues and interested NGOs to Somalia to witness the country firsthand. It feels good to say that UNFPA-Somalia and the Somali female MPs dared to dream; believing that Nigeria holds some of the answers to the questions they have.  

I am exceedingly thankful for all the high-level personalities and agencies that kept their doors open to us and supported us: the National Assembly, UNFPA-Nigeria, Youth Hub Africa, amongst others. This marks the beginning of stronger bilateral ties between Somalia and Nigeria on gender advocacy and legislative cooperation.  

Niyi Ojuolape is the Country Representative of UNFPA Somalia

<strong>20 Somali girls subjected to FGM in Kismayu – UNFPA Representative condemns act</strong>

20 Somali girls subjected to FGM in Kismayu – UNFPA Representative condemns act

Somali women at an alternative rite of passage training session conducted by UNFPA in Mogadishu. UNFPA is raising the alarm after 20 girls this underwent FGM in Kismayu, Somalia’s Jubbaland state. Image credit: UNFPA

The UN sexual and reproductive health agency, UNFPA, is raising the alarm after 20 girls underwent the proscribed female genital mutilation (FGM) in Kismayu, Somalia’s Jubbaland state, indicating the tough road ahead to end the practice.

The incident this week came amid strong campaigns by government officials to educate parents to end one of the most prevalent but dangerous rites of passage in Somalia.

UNFPA’s Somalia Representative Niyi Ojuolape on Friday condemned the incident which he said had subjected the girls to injury and heavy bleeding.

“All the victims are too young to give their informed consent. This is a shocking and deeply disturbing incident that violates the rights of these young girls and should have no place in the society,” the UNFPA representative said in a statement released on Friday.

Grim FGM figures

In Somalia, the UNFPA gives grim figures on FGM, indicating that as many as nine in ten women have undergone some form of FGM. And despite the practice having devastating health ramifications for women and girls, including pain, bleeding, possible permanent disability or death, cultural barriers have mostly stood in the way of ending it.

The UN sexual and reproductive health agency, UNFPA, is raising the alarm after 20 girls underwent the proscribed female genital mutilation (FGM) in Kismayu, Somalia’s Jubbaland state, indicating the tough road ahead to end the practice.

The incident this week came amid strong campaigns by government officials to educate parents to end one of the most prevalent but dangerous rites of passage in Somalia.

UNFPA’s Somalia Representative Niyi Ojuolape on Friday condemned the incident which he said had subjected the girls to injury and heavy bleeding.

“All the victims are too young to give their informed consent. This is a shocking and deeply disturbing incident that violates the rights of these young girls and should have no place in the society,” the UNFPA representative said in a statement released on Friday.

Grim FGM figures

In Somalia, the UNFPA gives grim figures on FGM, indicating that as many as nine in ten women have undergone some form of FGM. And despite the practice having devastating health ramifications for women and girls, including pain, bleeding, possible permanent disability or death, cultural barriers have mostly stood in the way of ending it. 

These days though, public policy makers and politicians have publicly spoken against it, a significant improvement from the days when discussing the subject was taboo. The country has not yet passed a law to ban FGM but has been working with UN agencies to spread awareness of the dangers of the practice.

‘Dear Daughter’ campaign

Earlier this year, the UNFPA launched a campaign known as ‘Dear Daughter’, encouraging parents to individually pledge in open letters to protect their daughters from any harmful cultural practices including FGM. The campaign was suitable especially since most of the parents had undergone the practice while still young but admitted experiencing the problems of FGM even in their later lives.

UNFPA says the campaign teaches parents and societies in general how FGM is a human rights violation issue as it is a form of gender-based violence and which exposes children to danger.

On Friday, Mr Ojuolape said FGM should be condemned because “it causes irreparable physical and psychological harm to women and girls”.

FGM is the partial or total removal of the female genitalia.

“Sadly, the drought and the humanitarian crisis have increased the risk that Somali girls face as a result of this practice,” he said.

“I stand in solidarity with the young girls who were affected by this incident and condemn this act of violence. I also want to assure the Somali people that UNFPA has taken immediate note of this situation and is working closely with the government of the Jubbaland State of Somalia as well as like-minded partners to address it.”

Emergency support

Somalia’s prevalent FGM is only one form of threat targeting women and girls. A three-year drought has meant that more people need emergency health and food support. A situational report by the UN Children’s agency, UNICEF, said early this month that at least 6.7 million children were in danger of starvation with at least 1.5 million children likely to be malnourished by Christmas Day this year. More than one million people have been displaced, most of who are women and children, due to drought.

So far, UN agencies working in concert with local authorities say they have supplied some 1.1 million children and women with essential healthcare services, against the initial target of 1.3 million. Reaching these groups is also often affected by the security situation on the ground as Al-Shabaab militants have often blockaded certain parts of the country where drought is also biting.

As the FGM is largely a man-made problem, UNFPA is calling on Somali authorities to punish perpetrators of the practice.

“I call on the government to take all necessary measures to ensure that those responsible for this incident are held accountable, to serve as a deterrence to others, and to protect the rights of women and girls.

“I also urge the federal government and the international community to take swift and proactive measures to help eradicate the practice of female genital mutilation,” said the UNFPA Somalia country representative.

Source: The East African/Aggrey Mutambo

UNFPA takes part in Dalbile Youth Fund Startups and Social Enterprise Awards Ceremony

UNFPA takes part in Dalbile Youth Fund Startups and Social Enterprise Awards Ceremony

UNFPA took part in the Dalbile Youth Fund Mogadishu Startups and Social Enterprise Awards Ceremony. The Dalbile Youth Fund aims to help vulnerable youth who lack access to economic opportunities access financing to start their own businesses and social enterprises.

There were 42 Startups and 2 Social Enterprises who now have access to financing for their business ideas in the Banadir Region thanks to Dalbile Youth Fund.

Activism beyond 16 days: GBV war as a critical lifesaving response

Activism beyond 16 days: GBV war as a critical lifesaving response

Gender-based violence (GBV) is globally endemic. It plagues societies regardless of their wealth or poverty, or whether they are at peace or in conflict. Its global presence and prevalence are shocking!

One in three women across the world endures some form of GBV in their lifetime. Yet, it is not widely understood that GBV does not only refer to physical violence, but also includes sexual violence, emotional and psychological abuse, harmful practices, and even economic coercion. And that the perpetrators of GBV are not always strangers, but that women are often at greater risk of violence from their partners than from anyone else. Globally, on average, a girl is killed by someone in her own family every 11 minutes … 130 girls every day.

Thirty-one years since the first 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence”—the annual international campaign by the United Nations to raise GBV awareness and encourage action to end it—we are still a long way from its eradication.

This year’s theme for 16 days of action is “UNiTE! Activism To End Violence Against Women and Girls!” The theme emphasises the significance of collective action and solidarity to address GBV, with a nod to the Secretary General’s UNiTE campaign, which calls on governments, civil society, women’s organisations, young people, the private sector, the media, and the UN system to join forces to address violence against women and girls.

Indeed, as we call on all key stakeholders to work together to combat this global emergency, we must also be strategic in our approach, focusing intensely and urgently on regions that are not only the most affected by GBV but are also seeing a sharp increase in its incidence, i.e., regions with ongoing humanitarian crises.

The breakdown of social norms and support systems, the weakened capacity of law enforcement and other institutions, as well as increased poverty and insecurity during a humanitarian crisis, make women and girls more vulnerable to violence.

Risk of violence

A climate crisis such as a drought exacerbates the risk of violence against women and girls as it leads to displacement, food insecurity, and other forms of stress that can increase the likelihood of violence. Especially in situations of displacement, women and girls become more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse and are at a much greater risk of violence, as they may be isolated and lack access to protection and support services.

The drought in the Horn of Africa, particularly in Somalia, continues to ravage communities and has had devastating consequences, including a sharp increase in GBV. Over 82 percent of the 7.8 million Somali people in need of humanitarian assistance are women and girls, who are disproportionately affected by not just hunger, malnutrition, and specific health and hygiene challenges but also a constant threat to their security.

Rape, IPV, sexual harassment, sexual exploitation and abuse, forced or child marriages, female genital mutilation, family abandonment, and forced abortion are all forms of GBV that are on the rise in the drought affected populations in Somalia.

The UNFPA’s GBV Information Management System (GBVIMS) data for 2022 indicate a 21 percent increase in reported rape cases in the drought-impacted communities in 2021, a 60 percent increase in reported cases of intimate partner violence, and a 20 per cent increase in the number of women and girls who accessed lifesaving GBV response services due to sexual and intimate partner violence.

UNFPA, as the lead agency of the United Nation working to respond to and reduce GBV, is prioritising the protection of women and girls affected by the drought and providing them with access to services such as safe spaces, legal and medical assistance, psychosocial support, and referrals.

In addition, we are also working to train required human resources, including humanitarian workers, on how to identify and respond to incidents of GBV, support the survivors, and engage with local communities and work with them to prevent GBV and promote gender equality.

Addressing GBV is not just a moral imperative; it is also essential for the effectiveness of humanitarian efforts. No humanitarian response can be successful without addressing the needs of women and girls, including the need to protect them from GBV.

Access to critical services

Providing support and protection for women and girls in crisis situations not only reduces their immediate vulnerability but also creates a more robust, inclusive, and effective humanitarian response with long-term social and economic advantages.

When women and girls are protected from violence, they are better able to access essential services such as healthcare, education, and food, and they are more likely to be able to participate in the recovery and rebuilding process.

Yet despite the widespread nature of GBV and its devastating impact on individuals and communities, in the face of more obvious challenges, it continues to be under-addressed and under-prioritized at many levels of humanitarian response.
The critical and life-saving need to reduce vulnerability and increase support and protection for women and girls in crisis situations is the first step toward developing a more inclusive and effective humanitarian response.

There is a need for systemic evaluation of how we collectively plan and implement humanitarian responses with a view to women and girls as a marginalised group of right-holders, with a focus on their needs and protection.

It is a no-brainer that the voices of women and girls must be heard and their rights protected. Activism beyond these 16 days means continuing to take action for gender equality and addressing violence against women throughout the year. Let us work every day towards a future where everyone is treated with dignity and respect, regardless of their gender.

The author is Country Representative, UNFPA, Somalia