The Image of Women as Reflected in Somali Proverbs: A Feminist Analysis in the Case of Shinile Zone

Kahsay Chekole


The general aim of the study was to investigate the portrayal of women in Somali proverbs in feminist perspective. The analysis focused on the images that are attached to women in proverbs. What positions are women given in social, cultural, and in other social affairs? How are women imaged in proverbs? What kind of patriarchal beliefs do proverbs narrated about women reflect?

Having identified the potential informants through snowball and purposive sampling techniques, data was collected through unstructured interview and focus group discussion. Then, the collected data was translated from original language (Somali) into English using communicative means of translation. Based on the information gained from the informants, the proverbs were categorized into recurring themes. Selected proverbs were arranged for analysis based in their recurring themes.  In the analysis and interpretations of the proverbs, attention had been given to the feminist theoretical approach and the context in which these proverbs can be created so as to show how the proverbs portray the realities of the women under study.

The findings of this study illustrate that both negative and positive attitude of Ethiopian Somali people towards women. Despite this fact, the proverbs of the Ethiopian Somali (Shinile zone) are unbalanced in that women are portrayed positively and in complementary role only in a few proverbs. Most proverbs indicated that women are evil, dangerous, unfaithful or morally loose, unreliable, untrustworthy, thus, intellectually inferior. The implication is that men usually use these stereotypes as grounds to legitimize their authority over women.

The proverbs further showed the senselessness of women’s thought and actions. This simply showed the society’s misconception about women. In other instances, though very few, women are represented positively and in complementary terms, these proverbs tend to serve the interests of men as they sustain or reinforce the traditional gender stereotype. For instance, representing a woman as “the boss of home because she is multi-task and able to feed her family, or as “heart of the house” because she has borne children, is not a complement but one way of attempting women to continue the good work which means men should continue to enjoy such patriarchal stereotypes as being the boss of the home who cannot consult the wife on important the relationship between husband and wife matters.

Thus, Contrary to men, Women are portrayed positively only in a very few proverbs. Most proverbs indicated that women are dependent, evil, lazy and inferior in both self-esteem and intelligence. The implication is that men usually use these stereotypes as grounds to legitimize their authority over women. Some of the proverbs further showed that the senselessness of women’s thought and actions. This is simply showed the societies’ misconception about women.

The finding of the study also indicated that the inferiority of women in Ethiopian Somali proverbs culture and male-female relationship in community. This study has tried to show that the proverbs of womanhood in Ethiopian Somali proverbs reveal an attempt that denigrating and disempowering woman.  It seems that such negatively constructed cultural law and proverbs constantly used in the society the negative image and uncomfortable space to woman are unfortunately made permanent. Most of the Ethiopian Somali (shinlle zone) proverbs are saying depend on the behaviors of women. The societies were portrayed women as inferior of men. As reflected in the proverbs, the behaviors of women are considered as bad, unconfident, unreliable, unfaithful and so on. Hence, Women are negatively perceived by men dominated Ethiopian Somali community particularly in Shinile Zone.

DOI: 10.7176/JLLL/61-01

Publication date:October 31st 2019

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