Dr. Siham Rayale emphasizes women’s agency in everyday peace and security, examining the power of women’s narratives to defend their own unique experiences and contest the prevailing political history of conflict and violence in Somaliland.
By Siham Rayale
THT- This article is a collection of Somali women’s narratives during Somaliland’s early peace and reconciliation conferences (1992–7) and their experience of the post-conflict reconstruction period (2000–12). Women’s experience with violence, insecurity, and prevailing gender norms highlights that peace is not the absence of gendered violence and that everyday peace is mired in political stability and physical insecurity.
Twenty years on, women’s narratives have helped to fill gaps by showing how women’s contributions have been sidelined but also demonstrate their unique experiences of ‘peace’ and ‘security’. This has been instrumental to framing Somaliland’s political history as a region exempt from the civil strife manifest in other parts of the Horn. This article examines the sites of contestations and conflict that have emerged as a consequence of women’s narratives being marginalized and its implications on how ‘peace’ and ‘security’ are practiced and framed in the Somaliland context.
Introduction: a narrative inquiry
‘What is termed as narrative inquiry is using the stories we tell about our lives or we hear about others’ lives as a basis for analyzing broader phenomena’ (Connelly & Clandinin 1990; 2000; Webster and Mertova 2007). It is a study of lived experiences through storytelling, oral histories, poetry, and other forms of narration and how we understand those narrations.
Narratives can be used to challenge meaning and transform them. As a research methodology, seeking coherence and generalizability through narrative analysis is difficult to maintain and I have found myself grappling with the inconsistencies present even in one sitting (during a single interview). The informant can speak about seeking to fight against patriarchy and to bring about radical changes for the Somali culture while also recognizing and supporting other tenets that contribute to women’s subjugation (i.e. clan elder authority).
We can certainly view this as a series of negotiations dependent upon the context and conditions of one’s lived experience (according to class, education, and mobility for example), but what is more telling is that the narrative regarding one’s lived experience can illuminate real and imagined desires. Apparent contradictions in this context may in fact be more reflective of both pragmatism and idealism—a reflection of the conditions that exist and those that the woman would like to see realized. And yet causality is important in interpreting data even when undertaking discourses analysis.
The narratives collected here not only describe what happens throughout informants’ lives but are used as evidence for the ongoing challenges present in engaging women in post-conflict societies like Somaliland. Although narrative inquiry is adapted from the field of literary criticism, it is now used by a variety of social scientists as a potent methodology for analyzing the role of stories and storytelling in any society (Clandinin 2006: 44).
Consequently, attempts are made to craft a genealogy and typology for its usage as data collection and as a research method. Narrative inquiry (poetry, storytelling, oral testimonies) can be seen fundamentally as the study of human experience and when interposed with an analysis of exclusion, marginalization and power, those everyday experiences can articulate and enact their desires. It is also understood to be a profoundly social experience and done in relation to the person asking the questions and the one telling the story.
Note on the author
Dr. Siham Rayale’s research and advocacy in East Africa has focused on issues relating to women, peace, and security with an emphasis on security-sector and legal reform in conflict and post-conflict contexts. While working on public and international policy issues in Toronto for non-profits and INGOs she is also a lecturer at the University of Toronto at Scarborough in the Historical and Cultural Studies department. She has a Masters in Development from York University, an LLM from Osgoode at York University, and a Ph.D. from SOAS.