Cultural Information – Religion, Class, Ethnicity, & Gender
The Somali culture does not discriminate based on gender, however, there are identifiable roles between genders, and this in congruence with the teachings of Islam. In the Islamic religion, it is absolutely forbidden to discriminate against others based on their class, ethnicity, religion and also their gender. That is exactly what most Somali people practice. At a young age Somalis are also taught to respect their elders, a rule that they honour a great deal during their adult years. In the workplace these attributes would have a positive impact because people respect and treat others equally based on those attitudes.
Each gender has its specific role. Somali women are in a way different from their neighbouring Muslim women in the sense that they perform many of the micro-economic activities of the country. They work both inside and outside the house and they are usually the primary head of the house in terms of raising the children and looking after the house. There is certain degree of gender segregation. Men and women are not encouraged to socialize or be friendly towards each other. However, in the workplace, such mixed gender socialization is acceptable as long as it does not go beyond that.
Almost all Somalis are Sunni Muslims. Religion plays a major role in the Somali society. It affects every aspect of the individual’s life and it is taken very seriously. Criticizing religion is not something that is taken lightly. Somalis are tolerant of other religious groups as long as they do not go against their own beliefs and principles. Basically, Islam is not just a religion in Somalia but a way of life. It dictates everything including how colleagues can interact with each other.
In Somalia, there is not a huge gap in terms of class. The majority of the population lives in semi-poverty conditions. Those who have wealth are obligated to share with their immediate and extended family members and in some cases with their clan members. Therefore, class is not a major issue in the workplace or greater society.
Somalis are mostly from one ethic group and the issue of ethnicity is non-existant in a sense. However, the clan performs the role that ethnicity plays in multi-ethnic societies. Clan practices are widespread all over the country and clan loyalty is very strong and deeply rooted. Even Bantu Somalis, who are classified as a different ethnic group, are seen as a different clan rather then ethnic minority. Such clan affiliation affects the workplace. If an organization hires predominately one clan, they can be seen as favouring that clan and tension might arise. Clan structure is very complicated and it is very central to life in Somalia today.
Display of Emotion
In Somali culture, most of the intimate interactions are kept private. Since these people are Muslims, it is forbidden for them to engage in any intimate activity with the opposite sex if he and she are not married to each other. It is allowed or recommended to show affection to the husband or wife in public, such as kissing in public in a very guarded manner. Due to their modest culture, Somali people still keep their intimate affairs private. One will not see most Somali people kissing each other on the street or even holding hands. A married man and a woman would walk with each other side by side, and not cling on to one another. It is also part of this culture to show modesty and act respectful. That is why you will not see Somali people or married couples angry and yelling at each other in public. These are considered to be private matters and are only dealt with behind the scenes.
Dress, Punctuality & Formality
If someone is going to be working in Somalia, he or she must dress appropriately. Just like in Europe or North America, when one goes to work, he or she should dress professionally and conservatively. An individual should not expose too much skin; also he or she should wear loose fitting/formal clothing during work and not tight clothes. In Somali culture deadlines are very important; it is stressed a great deal when it comes to the work environment and it should be treated as such. Socially, Somalis are not punctual but they do expect others to be punctual – especially if the individual is from Europe or North America.
This is due to the stereotype that westerners value punctuality.