Mogadishu (HOL) - A female INGO worker in Somalia who was fired in 2020 has taken legal action against her employer for unlawful termination, in a case which is shedding light on the power imbalance in the workplace for women.
Nasra, a former Governance and Rights Coordinator with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Mogadishu, a US-based global humanitarian INGO, said that IRC unlawfully terminated her in mid-2020 at the height of the COVID pandemic.
According to Nasra, the cause for termination was her pregnancy.
"My supervisor called me one morning in early June 2020 and told me to either resign, or he would terminate my contract. I was taken aback but firmly responded that I would not be harassed into resigning during a pandemic for no reason. He sent me a termination letter two days later," states Nasra.
By all accounts, Nasra was thriving in her position, which she had been in for the last 3.5 years, so the abrupt dismissal shocked her.
She quickly realized that she was locked out of her work e-mail, and attempts to reach her superiors were unfruitful.
Heavily pregnant and losing her only source of income, Nasra sought legal advice and made the difficult decision to take her former employer to court.
Nasra lodged her grievance against the IRC at the Conflict Resolution Committee for Employers and Employees at Somalia's Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs.
Somalia's 1972 Labor Law prohibits employers from firing women due to pregnancy.
HOL has obtained a copy of the labour committee's December 2020 decision, which found that the IRC unlawfully terminated Nasra's employment and ordered the international INGO to pay the remainder of Nasra's contract in addition to compensation and penalties.
Nasra told HOL that the IRC violated its zero-tolerance policy against sexual harassment, exploitation and abuse at the workplace.
The International Rescue Committee (IRC) appealed the labour tribunal's decision to the Benadir Regional Court. In February 2022, following over a year of legal hearings, the Benadir Regional Court upheld the committee's ruling in February 2022, yet again vindicating Nasra's claim.
The court ruled that Ms. Nasra's employment terminated by the IRC was unlawful under Somali Labor and Civil Codes. The court ordered the IRC to pay Nasra for the remainder of her contract and compensation for her legal fees.
Nasra said that while the case was snaking its way through Mogadishu's nascent legal system, she was pressured by the men in her family to abandon her legal fight against the IRC because it made her appear "rebellious" and hard to employ. They have urged her to accept a modest bribe in exchange for withdrawing the case.
Nasra would be forgiven if she accepted the offer. It is notoriously difficult to enforce court judgements in Somalia. As a result, only about 5% of workers file legal complaints against their employers. Financial constraints, as well as familial and societal pressure, are also significant contributors to workers' rights apathy.
However, Nasra said despite the difficulties, she is committed to her fight to obtain her rights through the legal system.
"I hope my legal fight against this injustice inspires other women who have gone through the same injustice to seek legal redress. The Somalia Labor law exists and is there to protect your worker's right, don't let anyone use their authority to abuse your rights," says Nasra.
Nasra and her lawyer believe that Somalia's federal government can do more to protect workers' rights, especially from international NGOs.
"This case has opened our eyes to the abuse meted against national workers in INGOs. I would recommend the Federal government of Somalia set up an independent body to regulate INGOs operating in Somalia to curb the undue harassment of Somali citizens," recommends Mohamed Weli of Garmaal Law Firm.
Nasra's fight for justice is still not over. After nearly two years of court battles, she learned that the IRC had appealed the Banadir court's decision to Somalia's Supreme Court. Nasra worries that it could take years before she receives her rights from the IRC.
"I hope and pray that the case settles soon. It is a shame that the IRC still refuse to acknowledge that they unlawfully terminated me for being pregnant and still want to drag the case on for no reason. May justice prevail inshallah".