Graafinen kuva Afrikan mantereesta ja Somalimaan sijainnista Itä-Afrikassa


Somaliland is a self-declared autonomous region located in northern Somalia. Its population is 4.2 million, with approximately a quarter, or 1.2 million people, living in the capital city of Hargeisa. 

Somaliland is one of the least developed areas in the world, plagued by extreme poverty and weather-related phenomena such as droughts exacerbated by climate change. 

ISF works against female genital mutilation and domestic violence in Somaliland, while also promoting women’s livelihoods. 

98 %

of Somaliland women (aged 15-49) have experienced sexual or physical violence.

77 %

of Somaliland women have a shortage of food.

99 %

of women are married before the age of 20.


The Republic of Somalia was established in 1960 when the Somali territories under British and Italian rule merged. As a result of the civil war, Somaliland declared itself separate from Somalia in 1991. However, no country has officially recognized Somaliland as an independent state. Therefore, Somaliland remains dependent on the overall development and peacebuilding of Somalia. 

Somaliland is one of the least economically developed areas in the world. Up to 65% of its population derives their income from pastoralism, which forms the basis of the region’s economy.1 In addition to livestock production, including camels, cows, and goats, Somaliland also produces millet, maize, fruits, vegetables, and frankincense. Somaliland families are largely dependent on self-produced food, so fluctuations in harvests directly affect their food security. 

Another significant pillar of the economy is remittances from abroad: many Somalis fled to neighboring countries and Europe in the 1990s during the civil war and later due to economic hardship and one of the highest unemployment rates in the world. Once in Europe, they support their families back home by sending money. The funds sent by the diaspora have been used to build schools and hospitals, as well as improve road maintenance, among other things. 

    Naisia Somalimaassa.

Women’s Rights Situation in Somaliland

The status of women and girls in Somaliland is extremely weak. Although the constitution of Somaliland guarantees equal rights for both men and women, this is often not the case in practice. Traditional gender roles and cultural norms prevent women from participating in decision-making and the workforce on equal terms with men. 

  • In Somaliland, up to 39% of girls are married before the age of 20.2 Getting a girl married is seen as a means to ensure her economically secure future. Early marriage disrupts girls’ education and makes them financially dependent on their husbands. Being uneducated, they are also more likely to lack their own profession and livelihood. 
  • In many communities, female genital mutilation is believed to best ensure a girl’s eligibility for marriage. Therefore, cutting is seen by many parents as a guarantee for their daughter’s ability to get married and secure her future. 
  • Female genital mutilation is one of the most severe human rights violations against girls and women in Somaliland, where approximately 98% of girls and women have undergone the practice.3 Legislation to prohibit female genital mutilation has been prepared but not yet approved.
  • Other forms of violence against girls and women are also significant issues. However, such violence is often considered a private matter, which hampers its recognition and intervention. Additionally, there is no family law in Somaliland, which further complicates efforts to combat violence. 

ISF supports women in raising their voices and addressing difficult issues, challenging rigid gender roles, and reducing violence against women. We create opportunities for women to participate in decision-making and provide them with the keys to independent livelihoods through programs that focus climate change resilience and small business management skills.

Our grassroots attitude change work educates communities about the harms and dangers of female genital mutilation, with the aim of ending this painful tradition. 

In our projects: 

  • We increase knowledge about female genital mutilation among parents, decision-makers, and religious leaders. Collaborating, especially with religious leaders, is of paramount importance as they have significant influence within their communities and therefore have opportunities to influence the cessation of female genital mutilation. 
  • We also collaborate with authorities and women’s groups, supporting grassroots-level attitude change initiatives. 
Naisryhmä Somalimaassa

How does ISF respond to the extreme drought plaguing Somaliland? 

In Somaliland, the region experiences extreme weather phenomena on an annual basis. The climate crisis particularly affects vulnerable populations living in precarious conditions. Adapting to the consequences of the crisis is most challenging in areas where basic services are limited, and livelihoods depend on natural resources.

The impact of these extreme weather events on the environment is devastating. According to a World Bank study in 2020, up to 27% of the region’s soil is unsuitable for cultivation due to factors like wind and flood erosion4.
Drought, tropical storms caused by climate change, the swarms of millions of locusts they bring, as well as wind and flash floods, pose successive challenges to the population of Somaliland: 

  1. Water and food scarcity: The past 20 years have been the driest in the history of Somaliland. In the worst cases, hundreds of thousands of people in the region have been forced to leave their homes in search of food and water. During the extreme drought in 2016, as many as 90% of people consumed inadequate amounts of food daily. The movement in search of food and water also leads to conflicts and disputes among pastoralists.5
  2. Drought spreads diseases and increases mortality: Drought also results in severe malnutrition among people, particularly affecting the most vulnerable, such as children, the sick, and the elderly, leading to higher mortality rates. As people’s health deteriorates, diseases such as diarrhea and respiratory infections become rampant. The shortage of drinking water and contaminated water contribute to the spread of diseases like cholera and diarrhea. 
  3. Worsening situation for girls: The disruption of food and water security also empties classrooms, as girls in families are forced to take responsibility for procuring food and water instead of pursuing education. The nearest water source can be several kilometers away. 
  4. Livelihoods are jeopardized by the loss of livestock and crops: Nothing can grow or survive without water. According to the 2022 ICPAP report, even in Somaliland, 9 million livestock have died due to drought, and numerous families have lost not only their savings but also their livelihoods.6

    Climate crisis disproportionately affects women, as female entrepreneurs find it more challenging to adapt to various changes. They are less educated than men and have limited assets. Women also rarely have opportunities to participate in decision-making and contribute to societal development. When women’s voices are not heard, their challenges and needs are often overlooked. 
  5. Inflation hits the already impoverished: Due to the significant proportion of farmers and pastoralists in the population of Somaliland, they are particularly susceptible to the extreme conditions brought about by the climate crisis. The price of water, which is scarce, has risen by up to 400%, and food prices have increased by 50-70% during the most severe drough periods.7

Climate crisis affects pastoralists and farmers the most, as their livelihoods depend on livestock production and agriculture.8 In the midst of crises, the importance of women’s livelihoods has increased, even though traditionally men have been the primary breadwinners in families. For example, in the informal sector of Hargeisa city, female entrepreneurs reportedly contribute to 60% of the city’s tax revenue. 

Adapting to climate change requires collaboration between farmers, experts, and government administration. In Somaliland, the lack of expertise and knowledge hampers adaptation and food production. The region needs its own research to address the problems caused by climate change. 

In our projects: 

  • We support community resilience during drought periods through initiatives such as water collection, irrigation channels, greenhouses, sustainable farming practices, and agroforestry. 
  • We collaborate with women’s savings and loan groups, enabling women to become entrepreneurs. This diversifies families’ livelihoods and promotes women’s economic independence. 
  • We provide training to farmers on climate-resilient farming techniques. 

ISF operates in the Todgheer and Sanaag regions in Somaliland 

Our work in Somaliland began in 2000, and we are the only Finnish development cooperation organization that has had a permanent office in Somaliland for over 20 years. We collaborate with local experts to address the issues raised by the community. 

Todgheer region is named after the Todgheer River that flows during the rainy season. The capital city of the region, Burao, is one of the largest cities in Somaliland. Sanaag, located on the coast, is the other operational area for ISF in Somaliland. Both regions, like the rest of Somaliland and the Horn of Africa, are predominantly inhabited by different Somali clans. 

Our projects in Somaliland include: 

ADO – Agricultural Development Organization (Togdheer and Sanaag regions, Somaliland)

ADO is ISF’s long-term partner in improving food security and livelihoods in Somaliland. ADO’s work focuses on agricultural development, promoting ecological solutions, improving water resources and soil quality. Additionally, ADO develops seed production in Somaliland to enhance self-sufficiency. >>

Y-PEER – Somaliland Youth PEER Education Network (Sanaag region and Burao, Somaliland)

The project with Y-PEER aims to engage community leaders, such as religious and political leaders, in ending violence against women and girls. The project also provides training for healthcare and social workers.

Awareness among school-aged children regarding girls’ rights and gender equality is strengthened through age-appropriate methods such as poetry, art, and small group activities. 

SOYDAVO – Somaliland Youth Development & Voluntary Organization (Sanaag and Togdheer regions, Somaliland)

In collaboration with our partner SOYDAVO, a Health and Business training program is developed for women. It includes raising awareness among women and men about the harms of violence against women and methods to resolve intra-family conflicts without violence. Discussions with men focus on increasing women’s economic roles within the family and community. Finding shared solutions involving both women and men is crucial.

Most of the women participating in the project live permanently in refugee camps and have fewer opportunities to assert their rights. Some women participating in the training also receive tailored support for entrepreneurship. >>

BVO – Barwaaqo Voluntary Organization (Todgheer region, Somaliland)

BVO focuses on combating gender-based violence against girls and women, with particular emphasis on ending female genital mutilation (FGM). The project also aims to prevent child marriages, domestic violence, and other forms of sexual violence. It develops dialogue between the community and its leaders on the project themes. Additionally, BVO supports the establishment of grassroots committees against FGM and violence. >>

NAFIS – Network Against FGM/C in Somaliland (Somaliland)

NAFIS aims to establish a law prohibiting FGM in Somaliland. NAFIS engages in lobbying with politicians, religious leaders, and creates social pressure through its member organizations to pass the law. >>

Latest news


  1. Modeling pastoralist movement in response to environmental variables and conflict in Somaliland: Combining agent-based modeling and geospatial data
  2. The Somaliland Health and Demographic Survey 2020
  3. The Somaliland Health and Demographic Survey 2020
  4. Somalia needs its trees to restore landscapes and livelihoods (27.7.2022, Maailmanpankki)
  5. Conflict Drives Record Levels of Acute Food Insecurity in Africa (13.10.2021, Africa Center for Strategic Studies)
  6. FSNWG Drought Special Report 29 July 2022
  7. Somalia Drought Impact & Needs Assessment, World Bank
  8. Kuivuuden aiheuttama nälänhätä Itä-Afrikassa pahenee entisestään (23.6.2022, Solidaarisuus)