Bilan, Somalia’s sole female media team, is introducing the nation’s initial female-hosted television program focused on current events.
The upcoming talk show aims to discuss controversial topics and will be the initial program in Somali television to feature a panel composed of at least 50% women. It will also cover sensitive subjects such as the lack of female educators and the obstacles women encounter when pursuing a career in politics, as well as environmental concerns.
Starting on 8 March, which is International Women’s Day, the monthly show will have a similar setup to the BBC’s Question Time in the UK. The show will travel to different locations across the country and audience members will have the opportunity to participate. This follows a successful trial run in December where the panel discussed the topic of period education in schools.
The pilot received an extremely positive response, according to Naima Said Salah, the host. This highlighted the significant impact that a severe lack of information had on girls. Salah, who is a senior reporter at Bilan, shared that one young woman in the audience shared her personal experience. She vividly remembered the specific time and day when her period began because she was completely unaware of what was happening and thought she was dying. It wasn’t until she confided in her older sister that she finally understood.
Salah expressed her satisfaction in sparking a conversation about periods in the public sphere. She noted that many women, herself included, were never taught about periods during their childhood and even their mothers avoided discussing it. Despite its taboo nature, periods are a natural occurrence that cannot be ignored.
Abdulqaadir Mohamed Hassan, the head of the Mogadishu school system, was happy. “Due to the lack of female teachers in the education field, young girls often face challenges during their menstrual cycles as they try to adjust to new circumstances. This conversation highlighted the significance of community backing during this crucial period, especially as they enter adolescence.”
In 2022, Bilan was founded with assistance from the United Nations Development Programme. The team was comprised of six journalists, led by Nasrin Mohamed Ibrahim, one of the few female senior news producers in the country. Located in Mogadishu, the capital city, Bilan is housed at Dalsan media, one of Somalia’s biggest media companies. With funding from the EU for the next three years, Bilan intends to broaden its reach to federal states in 2024. This expansion will involve hiring 20 new journalists and providing grants for investigative reports to an additional 10 individuals.
The media industry in Somalia is mostly controlled by men and heavily centered on political topics. All six original members of Bilan have experienced mistreatment and intimidation throughout their professional journeys. The Bilan project was established to provide a secure environment for women to share their own stories, leading to coverage of various overlooked issues such as HIV among Somalis, child maltreatment, and postpartum depression.
According to Ibrahim, a major factor contributing to the lack of representation of women’s stories in the Somali media is the dominance of male reporters. However, with Bilan’s presence, this is expected to change as women will feel more comfortable opening up to us as fellow women. They will trust us to enter their homes, prayer rooms, and personal spaces.