MOGADISHU: People often laugh when Fathi Mohamed Ahmed tells them she runs the first and only all-female newsroom in Somalia, one of the most dangerous places on the planet to be a reporter.
But Bilan, the media house where Ahmed works as chief editor, is far from a punchline, producing a daily mix of hard news and in-depth features for local and sometimes international audiences.
In its almost 18 months of operation Bilan, which means “to shine a light”, has overcome prejudice and insecurity to illuminate some of the most taboo subjects in Somalia, including a female drug epidemic, albinism, women living with HIV and period shame.
“Sometimes my soul tells me I cannot continue the work because of insecurity and societal pressure. However, it is a career that I loved since my childhood and a dream which still lives in me,” Ahmed said.
Although it is supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), success has not come easy or risk-free for Ahmed and her team.
With more than 50 journalists killed since 2010, Somalia is the most dangerous country for journalists in Africa, according to Reporters Without Borders.
The Committee to Protect Journalists ranks Somalia last in its Global Impunity Index, which measures the number of unsolved journalist murders as a percentage of a country’s population. As a deeply patriarchal society, some people find it difficult to discuss women’s issues publicly, Ahmed said. Others complain Bilan’s stories blemish the country’s reputation.
“We know Somalis, for them girls’ issues are shameful,” she said. “For example, signs of adolescence like menstruation, periods. Girls are not taught the symptoms of womanhood in the classroom.”
Published in Dawn, September 21st, 2023