Bilan Media: A pioneering all-women media house marks its first anniversary
In April 2022, Somalia’s first and only all-women media house, Bilan, opened in the capital, Mogadishu. Funded by UNDP and hosted by Dalsan Media Group, it is made up of six trailblazing journalists and two interns. One year on, two of its pioneering staffers reflect here on their experience; further below we republish with permission an important story springing from one of Bilan’s groundbreaking investigations.
Shukri Mohamed Abdi
Shukri Mohamed Abdi, the team’s youngest reporter, is a journalist at Bilan. Shukri comes from Baidoa, the regional capital of South-West state. From an early age, she noticed that women in the region were not equal to men and decided to dedicate her life to fighting for their rights. She finished school in 2019 and went straight into journalism at the same time as studying for her degree. She has worked as a technician and reporter at Radio Baidoa, and a producer at South-West state radio and television.
When I look back on my first year at Bilan, I see how dramatically my life has changed. I have the power to report on stories I believe in, I have relocated to the capital Mogadishu and I am challenging Somali society’s preconceptions that women are incapable of working or holding leadership positions.
The first I heard of plans to set up an all-women media house was one morning in early 2022 when I was at work at South West TV in Baidoa. My cousin called me and said, “I have seen an advert for journalism jobs for women. Check it out. It might be just right for you!”
As soon as I finished my work, I got working on my application. There wasn’t much time before the deadline so I worked as hard as I could to ensure I was one of the first to apply.
A few days later I received a message inviting me for an interview.
Two days before the interview, I received a call from a number I didn’t recognise. I didn’t answer it as I don’t like to pick up calls from unknown people. It is risky to do so in Somalia because militants and other powerful people often make threats over the phone.
When my phone rang for a second time, I took the risk and answered it. A gentleman asked if I was Shukri Mohamed Abdi. I didn’t respond straight away, asking myself how can this mystery caller know my name? It then occurred to me that this might have something to do with the job I had applied for and I said, “Yeah, it’s me”.
The man explained that he worked for UNDP, which was funding the new media house. He told me about the salary and working conditions, and said I would be based in Mogadishu if I got the job.
That made me worried. I did not want to leave Baidoa because my mother had been badly injured in an attack and had recently been discharged from hospital. I wanted to look after her and my siblings.
However, when I told my mother and friends about Bilan, they encouraged me to do the interview and move to Mogadishu if I got the job.
A few days after the interview, I received an email telling me I was one of the lucky ones. In spite of my worries, I moved to Mogadishu, arriving there on 2 April 2022 and ready to start a new life away from my family for the first time.
Soon after that I met my new colleagues and discovered I was the youngest member of the team, just entering my twenties. We embarked on a training programme with some of the best names in the business. We learned a new kind of journalism whereby we use mobile phones as cameras, audio recorders, editing machines and word processors. It means we can move around quickly with our equipment and doesn’t immediately mark us out as journalists, a risky profession in Somalia.
That training changed my life and gave me a new perspective on journalism.
In the year that followed I have told stories other Somali media doesn’t even notice. I have reported on how women have taken it upon themselves to improve security in Hudur, South-West Somalia by working for free at checkpoints. I found out about a feisty 10-year-old girl who teaches crafts to adult women in Mogadishu and filmed her for television. The story has been viewed tens of thousands of times on social media. I have had my work published in international media, including The Guardian.
I am sure the next year will take Bilan, me and my fellow journalists to even greater heights telling my country’s untold stories to Somalis and the wider world.
Farhio Mohamed Hussein
Farhio Mohamed Hussein is a reporter with Bilan. Farhio is Bilan’s tech wizard and has been a journalist for 10 years. She worked for Aman Radio and Hatuf Radio while studying for her degree in Journalism and Mass Communication at Mogadishu’s Modern University for Science and Technology. She then worked as a producer and editor for Dalsan Media Group and BBC Media Action.
In the year since I joined Bilan Media, I have had experiences I never dreamed of. One of the most amazing was to travel by land across the north, to report on stories in the regions of Maroodi-Jeex, Sahil, Toghdeer, Sool, Nugal, Karkaar, Mudug and Galgadud. I have never travelled by land before. It was far more exciting than going by plane although it took days and days on rough roads instead of less than an hour on an aircraft.
Instead of confining ourselves to Mogadishu, our aim is to open up Somalia to its people and the rest of the world by reporting on the whole country, corner to corner. I have told many stories from towns and cities including Hargeisa, Qardho, Bosaso, Garowe, Galkayo and Adado. As some Somali regions are risky, especially for women, I travelled with a Bilan colleague and investigated how local governments are trying to help rebuild our country, both the positives and negatives.
Traveling across my country has given me a new perspective. Each city, district and village had its own special atmosphere. The climate, the way people treated us, the traditional food they gave us – they were always different.
I feel lucky to have been one of the six women chosen to work for Bilan. Many of the stories we tell aren’t seen as interesting or important by other Somali media. We talk about challenging subjects like HIV and AIDS, FGM, criminal gangs and female drug addiction. We also shed a light on inspirational people like a cleaner who became a photographer and a young woman who has set up her own business designing and selling clothes. Bilan is the first Somali media house to focus on these issues.
We also report on the most vulnerable in our society including people displaced by conflict, drought and floods. Most of them are women and children. They feel more comfortable sharing their stories with us because we are women like them.
Another reason I like working at Bilan is that it has given me rights as a woman and as an employee. I have a safe place to work, free from harassment, and receive a regular salary, unlike journalists in many other media houses.
One thing I love is technology. We have had lots of training and I am now a proficient cameraperson, script writer and picture editor. I can report issues from start to finish, including all the technical bits. I have become a true storyteller.