Fri. Apr 19th, 2024

Two days a week, before dawn, when the streets of Hargeisa are still empty, and the tea sellers are only just starting to set up their stalls, a solitary figure rushes through the waking city. 

She wastes no time. With a determined gait, her movements indicate focus and haste. 

Her rush is understandable – she has to be ready to go to air at 6:30 a.m. for two hours of programming and presenting each day on the city’s most popular broadcaster: 

“Hello, dear listeners. Welcome to the morning programme of Radio Hargeisa. My name is Muna Ibrahim Dakhtar, and I will be your host this morning.” 

And so it goes every Monday and Wednesday, with Ms.Dakhtar making her way from her home in the Idaacadda neighbourhood before the sun has risen, focused and determined. 

She has been in this role since 2011 and the early starts are not a bother. 

“I always make sure to arrive at the office one hour before going on air rather than being even a minute late,” she says. 

From Gabiley to Hargeisa

Born in Gabiley in 1992, Ms. Dakhtar has been working as a journalist for thirteen years. She had initially aspired to become a doctor when she was younger but, as she continued her studies, the appeal of journalism grew.

After completing her primary and secondary education in the city, she earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Gollis University and a master’s degree in public administration from the Hargeisa Civil Service Institute. 

“When I was preparing my bachelor’s degree there was no faculty of journalism in Hargeisa. When it came to my master’s degree, I sought to acquire knowledge related to management and leadership,” she says. 

Ms. Dakhtar has been working for Radio Hargeisa – the world’s oldest Somali-language radio service since 2011. The station was established in 1943 and has continued to thrive to this day. 

Ms. Dakhtar was already known to listeners as she had previously made a name for herself hosting family and women affairs programmes, on both local radio and television. 

She also worked with BBC Media Action, the UK news service’s international development charity, for three years, producing and hosting a women’s entrepreneurship programme, in collaboration with Radio Hargeisa. Her prior experience includes posts in Royal 24 TV and Horyaal 24 TV. 

The hours are long and the remuneration is far from lucrative, but Ms. Dakhtar’s motivations are deep – she hopes to inspire women to enter the field of journalism and to raise awareness of women’s potential. 

“I want to change the negative attitudes of the public towards women, and I believe the best way to do that is through journalism,” she says, adding that she is glad that her career path took her away from business and into journalism. 

Ms. Dakhtar is also aware of the responsibility involved in being a prominent local figure in her field, which has around 100 women in it. 

With this in mind, Ms. Dakhtar tries to set an example for other Somali women who may be considering a career in the media. Through her social media platforms, which include 20,000 followers on Facebook, she gives her audience insight in her work, often posting photographs of her in her workplace, going about her day. 

New chapter 

The responsibility on Ms. Dakhtar’s shoulders racked up a notch last year. 

In August, she was one of 120 journalists trained in conflict-sensitive reporting by the Somaliland Journalist Association (SOLJA) with the UN’s support. 

“I gained knowledge and skills related to conflict-sensitive reporting and effectively conducting high-profile, challenging interviews. I hope the UN will continue with more training for the journalists in Somaliland,” Ms. Dakhtar says. 

Little did she know that her association with SOLJA was to soon intensify, making a bit of history in the process. 

At the end of 2023, she took part in the elections for SOLJA’s new executive secretary. She had previously served on its Board of Directors from 2021-2023. 

She prevailed against stiff competition from 17 male candidates vying for a seat on the Board of Directors and another two seeking the executive secretary role, Her victory was the first time SOLJA had a woman in that position since its inception in 2003. Her three-year term started in January 2024. 

SOLJA is an independent, non-governmental organization (NGO) bringing together journalists in Somaliland, with 38 media outlets and an 800-strong body of media workers making up its membership. Its mission is to protect and promote the rights of the press, expand freedom of expression, and strengthen its members’ knowledge and skillsets. 

“It doesn’t come as a surprise – Muna was a perfect fit for the position. She is not only a professional and popular broadcaster but also a strong leader who is perfectly capable of heading any organisation,” says SOLJA’s Executive Director, Ismail Ahmed Ismail. 

In an interview with Horn Cable TV after her win, Ms. Dakhtar spoke about her journey to the position and the hard work and preparation it entailed. 

“The results of the election mean a lot not only for me but for all aspiring women journalists. I am now part of SOLJA’s executive leadership, contributing to decision-making,” she said. 

Adding to those comments from 2023, she says, “I aspire not only to be a good journalist but also a good leader in the media industry.” 

Her priorities for the NGO include professionalisation and capacity-building for Somaliland journalists, with a special focus on empowering female journalists and enhancing their skills. 

Women journalists 

Enormous challenges confront the female journalists of Somaliland – primarily attitudinal barriers stemming from journalism often seen as a men-only field, and a related lack of appropriate media training. 

“Women journalists are hard-working but often engage in short-term training instead of pursuing college or university degrees. I encourage girls to study journalism at higher levels,” she says. 

Ms. Dakhtar encourages women to maintain a positive attitude and not compromise on pursuing their career goals. 

“My journey stands as evidence that, despite obstacles, women can advance and attain higher positions,” she says, adding that her motto in life is encapsulated in words said by former US First Lady Michelle Obama, “There is no limit to what we, as women, can accomplish.”  

UN support 

According to the United Nations, it is essential that the media promote gender equality, both within the working environment and in the representation of women. Journalists’ associations have a key role to play in this work, not least by ensuring that equal treatment for all media workers remain on media’s agenda. 

In past reports, the world body has noted that in many locations women are strongly represented in newsrooms but media are still very male dominated when the top positions are examined. Women are marginalised in the news both in the content of the jobs they do and in the opportunities they have to make their way in the profession. Sometimes, they are even marginalised in the unions that represent them.

The United Nations supports media development through its work with various media associations. 

Throughout 2022 and 2023, the UN Integrated Office in Hargeisa supported six training courses, including one in Borama, which were implemented by SOLJA, the Women Journalists Association (WIJA) and the Female in Media Organisation (FIMO). 

The sessions focused on conflict-sensitive reporting and practical skills for female journalists. One of the gatherings served as a space for female journalists and aspiring politicians to hone in their public speaking skills and provide media training for their future careers. 

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM).

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