She heard it first on the radio on the way to school: the government was setting up a new police force and Puntland’s Armo Police Academy, just opened with funding from UNDP, was taking on 800 recruits. 18-year-old Fatima applied without a second thought. It would change her life.
Over the next six months, she took classes on policing and went through a rigorous physical training programme. It was hard, but the trainees were buoyed by a new sense of hope in the air. This was 2005. Somalia had endured almost 15 years of fighting among different warlords and clans but now a new federal government was in place and national institutions were being re-created. Fatima was determined to do whatever she could to help rebuild her country.
As well as the training course, Fatima had to deal with resistance from those around her, including family members. They said that if she joined the police she wouldn’t get paid or have any healthcare and that the police were famous for corruption and drug use.
“Everyone in my family except my mother thought this would ruin my future and tarnish my reputation — or that men might harm me,” Fatima recalls. “But my mother was a firm believer in Nelson Mandela’s view that education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world and I believed it, too.”
Fatima ignored those around her and stuck with the course. After the initial training at Armo Police Academy, she stayed on to take extra courses in data management, community policing and criminal investigation. Even after the loss of her mother — her firmest supporter — in a car accident, she was determined to continue with policing.
By 2009, the police academy student had become one of its teachers. “I went on a UNDP-funded exchange programme to learn from the police in Uganda, and after that I started teaching basic policing, regulations, ethics and human rights at Armo Police Academy,” says Fatima. Altogether, I helped train 1,800 police officers.”
Helping women get justice
Despite all her training, Fatima knew that to become a decision-maker in the police, she’d need a university qualification. She couldn’t pay the tuition fees with her salary, but she was a natural candidate for a means-tested scholarship on a four-year law degree set up previously by UNDP and Puntland State University (PSU) to boost the number of local legal professionals.
The course included an internship at Garowe police station providing free legal advice to IDPs. Fatima was stunned by the number of women coming into the station to report crimes against them ranging from violence, rape and forced marriage to husbands who refused to provide divorces or child support. Every day there were more, even though women in Somalia are often afraid to report crimes so this could only be the tip of the iceberg.
“We explained to the women that they don’t need to pay legal fees and would get fair justice and advice,” says Fatima. “We also visited IDP camps and helped women write and file complaints and take cases all the way through to the final result.”
In one case, where a 7-year-old girl had been raped by her stepfather, the men involved on both sides wanted an out-of-court settlement. But Fatima and the girl’s mother insisted on a formal prosecution and the rapist ended up being sentenced to 17 years in prison.
It’s these kinds of results that make Fatima proud of her work. “You feel that you are doing something tangible for the community,” she explains.
She also practices what she preaches. When a higher-ranking male officer tried to harass her, she threatened to sue and he backed off.
“These are the kinds of challenges women face when they join government institutions or when they look for promotion, leave, transfers and inclusion in training,” she says.
Planning for Somalia’s future
Fatima is now part of committee working on short- and long-term policy issues for the Puntland Police, including implementation of the UN-supported New Policing Model, which aims to improve recruitment, training and accountability.
“I’m particularly focused on getting more women in the police and on developing community policing,” says Fatima. “Educated women are better than men because women are less corrupt and they can better understand problems in the community, especially among vulnerable groups. They create more trust between families and the police. So I call on Somali women to join the police. You can make a change when you are in the government.”
Fatima has certainly made a change. She’s proved wrong all those who doubted her, become a police captain and legal advisor and is now helping to shape the future of the justice system through her policy work.
But she thinks her biggest achievement is something else. “When women and girls see me in my police uniform, they feel happy and confident enough to come forward and report crimes,” she says. “This makes Somalia safer for everyone.”
🇪🇺🇳🇱🇸🇪 UNDP’s work on community policing and our scholarships for the 4-year legal degree are funded by the European Union, the Netherlands and Sweden.
👮🏽 To see how the legal degree is boosting the number of female lawyers in Puntland see this video: https://undpsom.medium.com/women-lawyers-make-puntland-safer-for-all-736c8d4af745
⚖️ To learn more about our access to justice work visit: https://www.so.undp.org/content/somalia/en/home/democratic-governance-and-peacebuilding/rule-of-law.html