Diaspora remittances are a lifeline for many in Somalia. In 2015 it was estimated that a total of USD 1.4 billion was sent back to the country by Somalis abroad. This represents a staggering 23 percent of the country’s GDP.

It is therefore safe to say that going beyond numbers, remittances represent far much more. They can play a powerful role in transforming the private, social and economic lives of the people (most notably women) and communities receiving them.

With this in mind, Himilo Relief and Development Association (HIRDA), a migrant organization founded by the Somali diaspora is working to ensure that women in Abudwaaq are empowered to make the most of this money sent back home.

Abudwaaq – an ochre coloured town in Somalia’s Galgadud region – is experiencing a renaissance of sorts.

“It is busy; there are new arrivals from Kenya,” says Abdihakim Mohamed over a crackling telephone line. The HIRDA program officer attributes this to the voluntary repatriation of refugees from Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee camp.

Urbanization has played a role too. “People have moved from the villages to the town because of insecurity or in search of better economic opportunities. Most of the current inhabitants were pastoralists before the collapse of the Siad Barre government more than 20 years ago.”

One day in July 2016, the first item on Abdihakim’s long to-do list is a visit to the Local Administrator’s Office to introduce the project he feels quite strongly about. Financially supported by the ACP-EU Migration Action – an initiative of the African, Caribbean, and Pacific Group of States (ACP) Secretariat and the European Union (EU), funded by the EU and implemented by the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

“Supporting women who receive remittances with financial literacy and entrepreneurial skills will upgrade them and the whole society,” he explains. “In many cases, the women in Abudwaaq are the breadwinners.”

This aligns with a wider pattern. Women in Somalia are increasingly responsible for earning as well as managing household finances in a context where remittances are vitally important. One study suggests that remittances account for as much as 60 percent of average annual incomes for the Somali households which receive them.

With Somali women comprising about 51 percent of remittance recipients – coupled with more general findings indicating that women’s control over remittances is likely to lead to increased investment in health, education and nutrition – targeting them for financial literacy and other skills’ training is a no brainer.

Abdihakim agrees, “By introducing women to financial services and by training them on how to save and plan financially, we will positively impact their lives and the wider community too.”

HIRDA plans to conduct financial literacy and entrepreneurial skills’ training for 100 women over a 6 month period. A handful of these women will receive small grants to start businesses with the expectation that they will put their new skills to practice and create additional income streams.

This three pronged approach (supporting financial literacy; entrepreneurial skills’ training and providing small grants) aims to address some of the common problems facing women receiving remittances. These include limited access to capital, lack of knowledge about financial services and planning, limited experience in running businesses, as well as the challenges of juggling entrepreneurial commitments with domestic responsibilities.

There are also structural factors which influence how women use remittances, perhaps the most obvious being gender differences. Basically a woman may have the responsibility to spend the remittances but not necessarily the power or authority to decide how the money is used.

Hinting that this may be the case for some in the Horn of Africa nation, Abdihakim explains that “In Somalia a man is the head of the household even if the woman is the breadwinner.”

And going beyond Somalia, there is evidence that gender differences influence the extent that remittances empower women, with some research indicating that any power, authority, and autonomy gained is largely transient – ending when the remittances stop.

It is against this backdrop that good practices highlight the importance of remittance projects targeting women as well as the social differences caused by gender relationships. A point which is particularly pertinent in Somalia where gender based violence is a reality for many.

This in turn underscores the need for broader and long-term programming, a fact that Abdihakim fully accepts. But ever the optimist, he is quick to point out that HIRDA’s project is a step in the right direction. His enthusiasm is infectious.

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Noni Munge is the East and Horn of Africa Programme Officer for the ACP-EU Migration Action. She can be contacted by email at nmunge@iom.int.

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