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Somali women stage traditional dressing occasion to educate, empower girls

By Adow Abdi:



A section of Somali women showcased the traditional Somali dress for women using the occasion to educate girls on their traditions and how to reclaim their rightful place in the society.

Led by Garissa County Women MP aspirant Maryam Sheikh Abdi, the event dubbed guntiina session which was held in Nairobi on Sunday attracted tens of youthful women eager to learn and revisit their tradition in this era when the old ways of doing things are slightly vanishing among members of the Somali community.

“This session is more of a get-together than the dress code per se, we are using this occasion to educate, empower, advice and guide our young girls. We should not shy away from teaching them how to balance their roles as a mother, wife and career women” said Maryam who gave a speech touching on all the spheres of life.

Maryam was among the first girls from North Eastern Kenya to make to university and having grown up in an erstwhile patriarchal community, understands well what it means for girls to claim their spot in the society.

“Having experienced different challenges and success stories, I would like to share the same with the young girls so as to guide them and help shape their future, why do I watch them as they navigate the same mountains and valleys I traversed years ago? Wouldn’t it be wise to guide them on how best to help them through their lives? Posed Maryam.

Girls of all age listened keenly as she explained the significance of the traditional women dress including guntiina, shaash, shaal and others.


In the traditional setup, during regular day-to-day activities, women usually wear the guntiino, a long stretch of cloth tied over the shoulder and draped around the waist.

Given the revealing nature of the guntiino, modern Somali women took up the dirac, a long, light, diaphanous voile dress made of cotton or polyester fabric. It is worn over a full-length half-slip and a brassiere. Both dirac and guntiino are worn with an underskirt known as the gorgorad, the underskirt is made out of silk and serves as a key part of the overall outfit. The dirac is usually sparkly and very colorful, the most popular styles being those with gilded borders or threads. The fabric is typically acquired from Somali clothing stores.

Married women tend to sport head-scarves referred to as shaash, and also often cover their upper body with a shawl known as garbasaar. Traditional Muslim garb such as the jilbab or hijaab is also commonly worn by most Somali women nowadays.

Additionally, they have a long tradition of wearing gold and silver jewelry, particularly bangles. During weddings, the bride is frequently adorned in gold. Many Somali women by tradition also wear gold necklaces and anklets.

Given the revealing nature of the guntiino, when the girls first announced their intention to hold the session they dubbed guntiino session, Some men took to social media lashing at them for allegedly reviving traditions relegated to the books of oblivion by modern lifestyle and increased understanding of the Islamic dress code.

Maryam however defended their mission saying the dress could still be used at home or under the religiously accepted dresses.

She however stressed on the significance of their get-together saying the dressing code was a unifying factor and a symbol of their identity.

“Guntiina session is symbolic and a rallying call for women. Beyond the literal teaching sessions for the young girls, the whole idea is to give women a space of their own. A space safe enough to open their innermost issues, touch their wounds and more importantly build their self-esteem. Guntiina session is intended to build Islamic, happy, healthy, loving and working families” she explained.

The girls intend to make the event a continuous one so as to reach more audience.

Guntiino. Image: Kabayare Fashion

Guntiino. Image: Kabayare Fashion


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