The women of Djibouti

Djibouti, an Islamic country nestled between Somalia and Ethiopia. The capital is a modest city decorated with grandiose and flamboyantly coloured houses. However, in the crevices of this cultured city are glaring reminders that Djibouti is a developing country trying to find solutions to deep seated socio-economic challenges.

One of the challenges that plagues the country is the stark inequality between men and women. This explains why I was absolutely thrilled to meet driven women who are solving some of the country’s biggest problems

Water shortage - Due to its location in North Eastern Africa, the climate in Djibouti is arid. Water is scarce and clean drinking water is a treasured commodity. Khadija Ahmed Barkad recognized this problem and made a business out of the solution. She called the company Zam Zam. A water filtration company which supplies clean drinking water throughout the capital. Khadija carries herself with an air of purpose, after all, she is one of the most respected entrepreneurs in the country.

On most days, you will find her 6ft tall stature draped in a long flowing dress which matches the hijab that frames her oblong face. Khadija’s strong sense of independence has made her one of the most successful entrepreneurs in the country. Yet before her remarkable success, she was a struggling immigrant in Atlanta. After several years trying to grasp a piece of the American dream, she left Atlanta in 1992 and moved home to start a new life. The risk paid off. Apart from Zam Zam, she has successful enterprises in the construction and sanitation industries. But above all, Khadija is a Djiboutian woman who is making a meaningful impact in her home country.

The Disabled - Amina Ahmed was waiting for me inside a walled bungalow near Boulevard du Gaulle. She is covered in a black Hijab which blends perfectly with her long black dress. Flanked by a group of handicapped people, Amina welcomed me with a kiss on the cheeks and led me into a makeshift office. On a cushion-less chair, she explained that she volunteers at this safe house for handicapped because she is passionate about improving the lives of Djiboutians with disabilities so they understand that begging for alms is not their only option in life. Everyday, she visit the safe house to educate the disabled about their rights as citizens and to teach them vocational skills that will help them become contributing members of society.  Amina has also created programs to debunk the commonly held belief that being disabled is a spiritual affliction or curse.

During these workshops, she invites parents and family member to participate in the activities. She teaches parents that it is important to educate their children who have disabilities and provide them with the same opportunities that they offer their able bodied children. Amina runs these workshops with minimal resources yet, she is challenging stereotypes within the most marginalized and underserved group in Africa.

A dying art – Hasna Maki Houmed understands that art has the power to motivate the youth. As a former journalist with experience in TV and radio, she has seen firsthand how music and drama can be used to address various social issues. When she was appointed as director of the Djiboutian Institute of Arts, she made a commitment to use the arts as a tool to mobilize the youth to become more engaged in their community. In her sunlit office she explained to me why the arts has a critical role to play in Djibouti’s conservative society.

“We are a country that relies on our oral tradition which is why we use music to communicate. Unfortunately, a lot of the musicians don’t have the training to make a serious livelihood. I want this institution to become a superior college. I want the students to gain an understanding of the technical aspects of the arts and music. I want us to be recognized globally. I want the graduates of this institute to integrate well into other sectors of the arts; music, drama, dance… My goal is to create a new generation to revive our national through art.” She punctuated her sentence by folding her arms determinedly across her bosom.

Yet another example of a remarkable Djiboutian woman who is trying to steer her country in the right direction