Abdillahi Ahmed Mohamed, Peer Educator in Sonke’s One Man Can Refugee Health and Rights Project, beamed a huge smile when asked about his best moments from 2013 as he reflected on the work he did with the Somali communities in Mitchells Plain and Bellville, and especially co-facilitating a four day workshop about sexual health and reproductive rights (SRHR) there. Abdillahi, who comes from Somalia, revealed that issues such as HIV, condom negotiation and sexual violence are often “forbidden” or taboo topics within the Somali community and are often linked to ideas of immoral behaviour or sexual relationships outside of marriage.
Abdillahi, alongside the Refugee Health Rights team, facilitated discussions around sexual health rights in order to share knowledge about HIV and safer sex practices, and to learn more about the taboos around this subject in these communities. He says they had to tackle many gender norms around marriage in these meetings, especially when women didn’t seem to recognize the gender equalities and subordination in their relationships. There were even times when members of the community believed that the team was “creating trouble”, explains Abdillahi as he talks about the importance of doing this work in a way that shows both respect and understanding for the Somali community and their values and beliefs.
Abdillahi remembers sadly how three members of the Somali community passed away this year due to AIDS-related illness, and feels that ignorance of HIV and AIDS, HIV prevention and HIV treatment were a big part of this tragic outcome.
This is why Abdillahi feels his work at Sonke is so important. In the four-day workshop on sexual health and reproductive rights (SRHR), Abdillahi explains he told community members how HIV is transmitted, that “it does not know religion,” gender, race, nor only those who have “sex outside of marriage”. The four-day workshop was organised to educate people about safer sex practices, HIV transmission, HIV testing and medical support. The participants were also taught about the female condom and were given both male and female condoms to take home so that negotiation around condom use and safe sex practices could begin.
The workshops were positively received, and many members of the Somali community are requesting more workshops and training.
Abdillahi’s commitment to the Somali community and his passion for education, community upliftment, and sexual health and reproductive rights has been a significant part of this year for him and he looks forward to future workshops.
To Abdillahi, the fact that members of the community are excited for future projects shows that this work is making an impact and changing the way these issues are both thought about and discussed amongst the Somali community in South Africa.