My body, my decision, my rights

At last, some good news. Somali women in the Diaspora, as well as in Somalia, are taking control of their sexuality and reproduction rights. According to the CIA World Factbook, Somalia is projected to have a total fertility rate of 6.26 in 2012. This is a decline from 7.18 in 2000. Overall, the projected total fertility rate in Somalia is steadily declining year on year. As a result of the ranking, Somalia is placed third on the global total fertility rate rank chart, right after Niger and Mali.

The reasons for the decline in total fertility rates could be several: the civil war, inability to support large families, family planning or women joining the labor force. I know from my work in Somalia, and here among the diaspora, that Somali women are taking charge of their bodies and opting for family planning. In any case, this is a positive development which is laudable.

The same positive trend is observable here in Finland also. According to Tilastokeskus (Statistics Finland), the total fertility rate in Somalis declined in the twenty years that they’ve been here almost by half: from 6.6 in 1990, to 4 in 2012. The number is even smaller in Somali-Finnish women aged 27-years and who live in the capital area (3.2 child per woman). Interestingly enough, Thai women whose population is estimated at 4,430 seem to have a higher fertility age than their Somali counterparts (3,650). This is contrary to the general myth here exploited by the True Finns (a populist and nationalist political party) that Somali women are a child-producing factory.

The decline in fertility rate means progress for some of the women who came here in the 90s and who have been unable to integrate due to various reasons. For the first time in many years, they can finally come out from their four walls, learn the Finnish language, get an education, join the labor force and eventually integrate into the Finnish society.

The second generation Somali-Finns are faring well compared to the first generation. Although they appreciate and see the value in having big families, they also feel that it would not be feasible in the Finnish context. First, the extended family network that would help with child-rearing is not available in Finland. Second, Finland is a very expensive country and thus raising a big family in an equitable manner is extremely difficult. Thirdly, second generation Somali-Finns want to enjoy life, travel more often and to see world, instead of being bogged down by child-rearing.

Although we have made positive progress in ensuring reproductive health rights, I feel we have a long way to still go. Personally, I believe that the future lies in the second and third generation Somali-Finns. They can play a greater role in building bridges between the Finnish authorities and first generation women. It is imperative that we enable women to choose when and how many children they want to have. Most importantly, women of child-bearing age, as a policy, should have access to culturally sensitive family planning information and services at every visit to health centers. However, this is an area that needs strengthening. Women cite religious reasons and the lack of information leaflets in the Somali language as a barrier to accessing these vital services. Thus and in order to increase access and uptake of family planning services, it important to develop culturally sensitive targeted campaigns on the benefits of reproductive health and family planning.

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