22 May 2015
Photographer Alison Baskerville has recently returned from Hargeisa, in Somaliland. While there, she was struck by the women she met – from those working in the hospital, to others who have built their own businesses.
Edna Adan Ismail is known as the First Lady of Somalia and was a government minister when Somaliland declared independence in 1991 – a move that has not been internationally recognised. She went on to become Somaliland’s foreign minister and then in 2002 founded the Edna Adan University Hospital, the only maternity teaching hospital in the territory.
She has also been a fervent campaigner against female genital mutilation and currently runs an awareness campaign across the country.
The outpatients service now has about 15,000 women on its register, so training new midwives is essential to keep this service going. The service also records whether those registered have been “cut”.
Specialist care can be provided as international surgeons volunteer to spend time in the hospital. The hospital has operated on nearly 200 children suffering from hydrocephalus or “fluid on the brain”.
The hospital also treats other conditions, such as cleft palate. A visiting maxillofacial surgeon is on hand every six weeks, and these operations are performed free of charge.
Away from the hospital, Baskerville photographed a wedding. She said: “In public, women will be covered from head to foot in traditional clothing. However, behind closed doors, the women have a chance to wear bright clothing and to show off their elaborate hairstyles and make-up.”
Baskerville also pictured women starting their own businesses in Hargeisa, including Sara Haji, who has opened an Italian coffee house.
Ms Haji has faced some resistance to the project, known as the Cup of Art, she said: “The prejudice is pushing me to try harder and fight back.
“I want to push social barriers.
“I came back to Somaliland as this is my spiritual home, but I was tired of the bad coffee.
“So my brother Khamal and I decided to do something about it.”
“We like the decor and the music,” said two of her customers, Mona and Layla.
“We are working out our business plan to open our own beauticians.
“We can relax more here, and it’s nice to be able to wear our jeans under our clothes.”
Tucked away in the Jiga Yar district of the city, the Royal Lounge backs on to a more affluent area.
Used by local businessmen and their families, the restaurant is the creation of a single mother of five, Sagal Olad.
“I built this place brick by brick,” she said.
“It was hard to get men to listen to me, especially those that I employ – but after months of work we made our own little palace in the city.”
Born in Mogadishu and raised in London, Ms Olad helped her mother raise her six siblings.
“We were always stared at on the bus, no-one had really seen Somalis in the 90s in London,” she said.
“I realised I wanted to do more with my life and be a good example to my kids, so I left for Hargeisa to start out on my own.”
The images are to be exhibited as part of Women of the World festival in Hargeisa in July.
All photographs by Alison Baskerville