‘This Is Ours’: Somaliland Women Smell Success As Frankincense Business Takes Off

Step into the world of Luul Siciid Jaamac, a resilient woman in Somaliland whose days are filled with the intoxicating aroma of frankincense. Each morning, she starts her day with a cup of tea and the burning of the resin, seeking relief for her weary back and joints from a lifetime of sorting frankincense. But her story is not just about the scent—it's a tale of empowerment and triumph. For years, Jaamac worked for Asli Maydi, a company that supplied frankincense to the renowned US essential oils company, doTERRA. However, the experience was far from empowering. Underpaid and subjected to harsh conditions, Jaamac and her fellow female sorters were at the mercy of Asli Maydi's owner, Barkhad Hassan. Decision-making power was withheld from them, and they felt excluded. Enter Beeyo Maal, a newly formed frankincense sorting collective that is transforming the lives of women in the male-dominated frankincense industry. Jaamac, now the chairperson of the collective, leads a team of approximately 280 women who are running their own business. With pride in her voice, Jaamac declares, "Now, we are in charge, and we have got the freedom to run our business." The transformation was sparked by a two-year investigation by the Fuller Project, which exposed the exploitative practices within the industry. The article prompted doTERRA to sever ties with Asli Maydi, leading the women to establish their collective. In a heartwarming display of unity, a group of Somali women, donning vibrant headscarves, greeted the world via a WhatsApp video call. Standing in their very own warehouse, they exuded joy and enthusiasm, eager to showcase their newfound workspace. Beeyo Maal, meaning "the milkers of frankincense," is based in the city of Erigavo, Somaliland. The collective was officially registered as a business in January, marking a significant step towards economic independence for these women. Their new warehouse, though humble, offers running water and a toilet, eliminating the need to rely on neighbors for basic amenities. Bags of frankincense fill the space, and the women proudly display handfuls of unsorted resin to the camera, sharing their progress. Support from the British-based charity Horn of Africa has been instrumental in Beeyo Maal's journey. Amina Souleiman, the charity's director, conceived the concept and assisted the women in securing the warehouse, obtaining their first batch of frankincense, and acquiring a business license. Souleiman envisions a future where women have ownership over frankincense trees, a departure from traditional norms that restrict women to low-paying sorting roles. She dreams of empowering them to purchase and sell the resin themselves. Currently, the women purchase frankincense from local harvesters and sell sorted incense in nearby markets. Their aspirations extend beyond local boundaries—they hope to expand their reach online and even internationally, offering not only incense but also frankincense creams, lotions, and soaps. Although they earn between $1 and $1.50 for sorting approximately 2 pounds of resin, an improvement from their previous wages, they aspire to a fair wage of $15 per day, enough to support themselves and their families. As they navigate the path towards financial stability, the women invest any extra income back into the business, primarily by purchasing more frankincense from harvesters. Building a customer base and achieving their desired wages will take time, but Nimo Abdi Salah, the cooperative's treasurer, harbors big dreams. At just 23 years old, she embraces the challenge of being a female leader in Somaliland and hopes to impart basic math and money management skills to her fellow members. Luul Siciid Jaamac and her comrades at Beeyo Maal embody the resilience and determination of women who refuse to be confined by societal expectations. With each step they take, they move closer to their goals, transforming not only their own lives but also the landscape of the frankincense industry. Their journey is a testament to the power of unity and the unwavering spirit of women seeking to redefine their place in the world.

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