Somalia to launch its first current affairs TV show led by women

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Somalia’s only all-female media team, Bilan, is launching the country’s first TV current affairs show to be hosted by a woman.

The debate show, which plans to address some taboo subjects, will also be the first programme on Somali television to have a panel of at least 50% women, and the first to broach contentious topics, such as a critical shortage of female teachers and the challenges faced by women trying to get into politics, as well as environmental issues.

Launching on International Women’s Day, 8 March, the monthly programme will be similar in format to the UK’s BBC Question Time, touring venues around the country and inviting audience members to take part. It follows a successful pilot in December when the panel debated period education in schools.

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Reaction to the pilot was overwhelmingly positive, said the host, Naima Said Salah, and exposed the impact that a dire lack of information had on girls. “One young woman in the audience shared her own experience. She remembered the exact time and day when her period started because she had no idea what was happening. She thought she was dying. It was only after she told her older sister, that she understood,” said Salah, a senior reporter at Bilan.

Salah added that she was proud to bring the subject of periods into public debate. “Women, including me, never had the opportunity to learn about periods as girls; even our own mums don’t discuss it. People think this is taboo, but it is a fact; it exists and we cannot ignore it.”

Cabdulqaadir Maxamed Xasan, the director of the Mogadishu schools network, was pleased. “Given the scarcity of female teachers in the education sector, young girls often struggle during their periods to adapt to changing circumstances. This discussion underscored the importance of community support during this critical time, particularly at the onset of adolescence.”

Bilan was established in 2022 with support from the United Nations Development Programme, with six journalists led by Nasrin Mohamed Ibrahim, one of the few female senior news producers in the country. It is based in the capital, Mogadishu, at Dalsan media, one of Somalia’s largest media organisations. After receiving EU funding for the next three years it plans to expand into federal states in 2024, recruiting 20 new journalists and offering grants for investigative reports to a further 10.

Somalia’s media sector is male-dominated, with a strong focus on politics. All six founding members of Bilan have faced discrimination and harassment in their careers. The project was set up to offer women a safe space to tell the stories they wanted to tell, and has covered a wide range of under-reported stories, including Somalis living with HIV, child abuse and postnatal depression.

“One reason why women’s stories are rarely told in the Somali media is that most reporters are men. Bilan will change that,” said Ibrahim at the time. “Women will speak to us because we too are women. They will allow us into their homes, their prayer rooms and their private spaces.”