Caasha-Kin Duale was one of the few female lawyers in Somali during the 1970s and 1980, and the only female defence council in capital punishment cases. She was born in Beledweyne, Central Somalia, but when she was five years old, she moved to Mogadishu with her family where her father worked for the government. Caasha married a patrilineal first cousin who worked as a medical doctor in the capital, and together they had five children.
Having completed her law degree in 1979 at the National University, she first worked as a legal adviser for a government insurance company, and later began practicing as a criminal lawyer. As the only female senior partner in her law firm, she struggled to gain the respect and trust afforded to male lawyer of her stature.
On one occasion she described how one of her male clients, who in 1988 she had defended and who eventually was spared the death sentence, turned to her after the case and thanked her by saying: ‘I should congratulate myself because I put my life in the hands of a woman.’ She now recounted this with a smile on her face, but at the times she had been deeply hurt by this remark.
During one of our meetings Caasha provided me with her own analysis of the causes and effects of the war at the end of the 1980s. ‘In my lifetime when I was growing up and working in Mogadishu people had core values,’ she began, in reference to the 1960’s and 1970s, ‘I could not go to my neighbor and beat her up and take her stuff right? But that’s exactly what happened.’ She elaborated with a detailed account of a moral shift that occurred in the 1980s:
The problem is the government are in charge of maintaining the moral order and core values. But when morality changes there is nothing that can stand between the rights and wrongs of people. Before, those who grabbed public property were pointed at, people who took bribes were pointed at. After 1979 those who achieved high positions but were not corrupted were pointed out as weak. Rebel clan members who would die in combat with the government would have their corpses not buried or their limbs attached to a bar on the side of the road as a deterrent to other rebel groups.
It started in the Central Somalia and it became the norm. There was no respect for the dead. In the old Somali war ethics the elderly, women, children and religious people get immunity. After 1979 all this changed – indiscriminate killing became normal and rape of women belonging to rebel clans became a used weapon. What happened is that in the 1990s there was no morality, no war ethics all boundaries of decency and human respect were crossed, those people who grew up in the 80s will never know of that morality that existed before that.
Her discussion then turned to a description of the 1975 family law, and the religious opposition to the regime that ensued. Caasha had been an advocate for the Barre regime’s progressive agenda and had campaigned in support of the new legislation. The family law had to be changed, she reasoned at the time as it stood as an impediment to women’s acquisition of equal status in Somali society. However, she later elaborated that she had been wrong and misguided in supporting these legislative changes:
I was in favour of that law. But I didn’t know my rights as a Muslim woman. Now I do, because I went back to study it and discovered that I have more rights than what any man-made legislation could grant me. I know why Islamic laws [on in heritance] make sense. People like me, who didn’t know the religion, supported the law. Barre never put equality in practice. There were no high positions, no ministries given to women, and women needed to challenge stereotypes in every aspect of life. In the Qur’an I have learnt it says to cover for modesty but not to submit to men. Polygamy is allowed with the clear reservation that men must be able to provide equally for all his wives, if not, one wife is good for him. But the problem is with men’s interpretations of the Qur’an.
Women’s lack of knowledge of Islam, which Caasha linked to the absence of religious instruction during this modern period, meant that men have interpreted the Qur’an to further their own ends. Gender equality, according to Caasha, can only be achieved through Islam. A proper, conscious understanding of religion by and for women, Caasha suggested will enable them to implement equality not only in rhetoric but also in practice. According to Caasha, her religious awareness has come about by engaging with texts in an intellectual and reasoned way.