Tradition as Resource : Transnational Somali Women Traders Facing the Realities of Civil War

University dissertation from Uppsala : Religionshistoria

Abstract: This dissertation is an analysis of interviews with and observations among transnational Somali women traders, located in Somaliland (northwest Somalia) and Dubai. Since the outbreak of the Somali civil war an increasing number of women have become the sole providers of their families. Female agency is explored by discussing the constraints imposed upon these women’s activities, as well as the strategies they employ to overcome such constraints and establish themselves as successful entrepreneurs and respectable women of piety and honor.My hypothesis is that inadequate access to resources compels women to seek for the enhancement of safety (as opposed to autonomy), whereas sufficient access enables them to seek for the enhancement of independence and self-reliance. To more closely explore the influence of capital (power/security) on choice, I have selected informants from three categories of female traders, each of which represents a different degree of access to material and social resources. The division is as follows: 1) four retail traders located in Hargeisa; 2) four retail traders located in Dubai; and, 3) six large-scale wholesale traders that largely travel between these two locations.By selecting informants from these three categories, I hope to make visible the complex, often contradictory, contexts in which the signs and symbols of a culture develop their meanings as part of an ongoing transformative process. My aim is to examine how these women use tradition – the content of Somali culture and Islam that “exists” within discourse (as articulations and rearticulations) – as a resource to improve their lives. My discussion of this material occurs in the context of contemporary debates on agency, gender and Islamization; my hope is to question a far too common stigmatization and victimization of Muslim women in general, and of Somali women in particular.

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