Women in the government of Somalia
Shukria Dini writes about inclusion and representation of women in the New Federal Republic Government of Somalia.
Women in conflict zones are more affected by the post-conflict periods than men due to their socio-economic and political positions, and often non-inclusive, male-dominated and top-down peace processes. However, post-conflict period also presents a window of opportunity to transform the social, economic and political institutions that marginalized women and to enable them to enter into the post-conflict political arena and accommodate changes in gender roles and relations.
In this window of opportunity peace agreements are signed, interim / new constitutions are drafted, and state-institutions are being rebuilt with the support of the international community. In this period women in post-conflict societies such as Somalia need to be enabled to enter the corridors of power and formal decision-making processes.
International instruments and conventions such as the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, CEDAW and the United Nations Security Council’s Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security called for women’s full inclusion in politics, peace and state building processes.
Women activists at a workshop organized by Somali Women Studies and COGWO in Mogadishu in September 2012.
Somalia is yet to take advantage of its post-conflict stage to include women in its emerging institutions. Despite Somali women’s important roles and contributions to peace and maintaining the basic survival of their households and overall for their communities for decades, they remain marginalized from the formal decision-making processes.
Somali women's rocky road to political arenas
The representation of Somali women in the political arena is a human rights issue, a justice issue, and their participation is critical in rebuilding transformative and inclusive political institutions. With their different experiences and skills, women engage in politics differently than men and their participation will enrich the political processes.
The political arena in Somalia has not only been a contested arena but also an arena dominated by men selected through 4.5 clan formula by their clan elders. It is an arena where men nominate and select men hailing from their clans to ’represent’ the nation and all Somalis. In this arena, Somali women have a limited chance of getting nominated and are always locked out.
This article critically assesses the particular ways in which the new Somali government attempted to include women in its state institutions including the Parliament and the Executives. Somalia is a traditional and patriarchal society and despite the changes in gender roles and relations and women’s increased agency and activism, gender inequality and the profound absence of women from the formal decision-making processes continues to persist.
A number of factors including the clan system and its sexist 4.5 clan formula, insecurity and the overall political climate that is pro-men, make it difficult for Somali women to enter formal decision-making structures.
The article is based on some interviews that the author conducted with five women activists in Mogadishu in October 2012 and author’s observation on how the process of ending the political transitioning in Somalia was implemented. The author asked these women activists their views on how the process was carried out and the inclusion and representation of women in the new Federal Government of Somalia.
Where are women in the New Somali Government?
Somali women have a very limited representation in the newly formed political institutions. Let us begin with the current Provisional Constitution. There is no Chapter in the Provisional Somalia’s Constitution that specifies the social, economic and political rights of women explicitly.
Due to the unavailability of a quota system and legislation that supports affirmative action, there are only 39 women in the current Parliament – constituting 14 percent, thus making them a minority group in this institution. In addition, the new government selected two women in its 10-member cabinet of Ministers: Fowsiyo Yusuf H. Adan was appointed to serve as Deputy Prime-Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs, and Dr. Maryam Qasim is the Minister for close to five Ministries.
Despite all of the challenges, the new Government in Somalia which came to power in September 2012 is the first government ever in Somalia to appoint a woman for a Deputy Prime Minister as well as Minister for Foreign Affairs. In Somalia’s political history, there has never been a woman holding such a high position. Therefore, the President and his Prime Minister – Hassan Sheikh and Abdi Farah Shirdoon (Saacid) – will be remembered for their bold and courageous steps in appointing two women in their lean cabinet and giving them high positions. In addition, in the 20 Deputy Ministries that were appointed by the Prime Minister, there are only three women who are deputies in the Justice and Natural Resources and Social Services ministries.
Women in line and waiting to get inside the conference hall where 825 National Constituency Assembly (NCA) were to approve the Provisional Somalia’s Constitution at the Police Academy in Mogadishu in August 2012.
Somali women hold different views on their representation and inclusion in the new government including both the cabinet and parliament as some regard it sufficient whereas others see it as inadequate.
According to a female activist:
“This government is the first government ever in Somalia that appointed a woman to a crucial and high ranking position. In fact, this was a victory for Somali women as it gave them a chance to be recognized as competent leaders who can occupy higher political positions often reserved for men. It is something we women need to celebrate about and acknowledge the significance of such development.”
Even the Deputy Prime Minister who is also the Minister for Foreign Affairs herself acknowledged through press conference the significance of her appointment to two top positions and underlined:
“My nomination as the Foreign Minister is historic for the Somali country and particularly for the women of Somalia; it turns a new page for the political situation of our country and will lead to success and prosperity.”
Fowsiyo Yusuf H. Adan will be in the annals of Somali political history – being the first female ever to hold such a position in a male-dominated political institution. Somali women are watching her closely to which extent she will push the inclusion of women in her Ministry – Foreign Affairs.
It is worth probing whether the few women selected by male leaders will stand up for the rights and interests of women and girls in Somalia? Or will they be co-opted by the same structure that selected them?
All women are not content
There are other women who hold contradicting views regarding the adequacy of women’s representation in the new government. They hold the view that Somali women are still under-represented and the few ones that are lucky to occupy such positions are not in a better position to promote the interests of women and girls simply because they were selected by male leaders and will be accountable to them.
For example, Amina argues that:
“Having a female Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs and another female Minister for a number of Ministries does not mean that we were given the proper representation in the new government and I will say that this will neither guarantee nor lead to more attention on women’s issues. Somali women constitute over 50 percent of the population, how is it that they are given only two ministries, do you call having few women in this new government a proper representation and full inclusion of women? Absolutely not! I doubt whether we are even closer to having a good and proper representation in the political arena.”
Indeed, it seems that the majority of Somali women are not convinced that they are well represented in the new government and hold the view that it is a business as usual in Somalia’s political system – where men continue to dominate and women are denied a proper representation and participation in the post-conflict political structures.
Aisha explains some of the factors that have led to the marginalization of women in the new government:
“In Somalia, women are not given any opportunities to play active roles in politics. In all previous governments including the last transitional one, women were under-represented and marginalized. Men hailing from dominant clans continue to dominate the political arena in Somalia. Somali men do not consider women as capable actors who can play effective roles in governing and formal decision-making. There is a societal perception and belief towards women that the under-representation of Somali women in politics will persist.”
Rural women and their children displaced by the 2011 drought in Dolow, Gedo in August 2011.
Somali women want to overcome such discrimination and marginalization and want to be given a chance to be a part of the decision-making process. Having women in all emerging government institutions is indeed important, but however, it is equally important to have competent women who can advance the interests of women and girls.
The few women in the current government need a lot of support so that they can promote Somali women’s agenda. They cannot simply do it alone and need the assistance of other women who are operating outside the perimeter of the government. To understand the political marginalization of Somali women in the current federal government, it is essential to unveil some factors that denied them adequate and visible representation in the political arena in post-conflict Somalia.
The 2012 process that ended over two decades of political transitioning in Somalia offered a golden opportunity to past and present leaders to build inclusive political institutions. However, such opportunity was not seized to build gender inclusive political institutions in post-conflict Somalia, but the process was flawed and non-inclusive.
First, the process was dominated by a few men hailing from specific clans and those with resources. It was a process in which the leaders of the past Transitional Federal Government led by Sheikh Sharif Ahmed; the former Speaker of the Transitional Parliament, Sharif Adan Sharif Hassan; Puntland President Abdirahman Mohamed Farole; the President of Galmudug State, Mohamed Ahmed Alim; and the leader of Ahlu-Sunna Wal-Jamaa, Khalif Abdikhadir Nuur played active roles in ending the transitional politics in Somalia, thus making it a men-only affair.
In other words, there was no single woman who held a political position in Somalia who was involved in this process. Thus, the Signatories of the 2012 Road Map were the only ones who agreed to have the clan elders representing all the clans in Somalia to select the next parliamentarians.
A total of 125 clan elders representing all clans in Somalia were given the authority to select the next parliamentarians. It is worth noting that there are no female clan leaders and the positions of women within their clans do not enable women to hold top-leadership positions in the clan system. The Signatories of the 2012 Road Map had some influence over the selection of the clan leaders who selected the parliamentarians in the current Parliament. Some of the Signatories of the Road Map were also Presidential candidates and wanted to choose ’friendly’ clan leaders who would then select ’friendly’ parliamentarians who would then give votes to these Presidential candidates.
Majority of the clan elders who were bestowed with the power to choose the next Parliamentarians of Somalia vehemently opposed the nomination and selection of women as future MPs who would represent their clans in the institution. The clan elders ended up selecting 237 men and 39 women for the new Parliament. Both Signatories and clan elders did not see women as ’reliable’ candidates who could deliver the votes for certain male clan members who were Presidential candidates including the previous President Sheikh Sharif and Former Prime Minister, Abdiweli Mohamed Ali Gaas. Because of competing interests, social beliefs and attitudes, Somali women once again missed the boat thus leading to their marginalization and under-representation in the current political structures in Somalia.
Second, the process of ending political transitioning was flawed because the Signatories involved in the Road-Map to ending the transition did not set up certain mechanisms that could guarantee the attainment of the minimum women quota (30 percent) simply because ensuring the representation of women in the next institutions was not a priority. Due to international pressures and those from Somali women, the Signatories of the Road-Map only agreed to the minimum 30 percent women’s quota on papers during the consecutive meetings held in Mogadishu, Garowe and Galkacyo.
However, the quota annoyed both the clan elders who were to select the next Parliamentarians and some other men who were interested in securing parliamentary seats. In addition, granting elders representing all clans a complete authority to choose the next parliamentarians legitimized the marginalization of Somali women and the failure to implement the 30 percent quota.
According to Jamaad:
“Somali women were cheated once again. For instance, at the process of ending the Transition – the Road Map, we were extremely hopeful in securing the minimum 30 percent in Parliament. Little did we know that it was all a lie. We are also to be blamed because we simply believed that our clan elders would be fair and that they would actually nominate women to represent their clans. Few women in fact during the National Consultative Meetings held in Garowe opposed the reliance of clan elders and proposed that women themselves should be given the right to nominate and choose women hailing from different clans, but other women at the conference who were the majority opposed and said ‘we have trust in our clan leaders and we do not want women to nominate and select Parliamentarians’. We placed a total trust in these men [clan elders] and this was the biggest mistake we women made. We should have made a lot of noise about having clan elders [men] choosing next legislators and come up with alternative strategies for the implementation of the women’s quota.”
Somali women are to be blamed because they did not look ahead to come up with mechanisms that could prevent such setbacks. For instance, the decision that granted clan leaders to choose the next Parliamentarians and women accepting it was a grand mistake and a risk taken by women. While some women during the Garowe meetings resisted and criticized it, other women supported the idea of clan leaders to choose their clan representatives for the new Parliament. This is indicative of the lack of unity and trust among Somali women and that some women are supportive of their clans and lack feminist consciousness.
It is also important to note that due to a lack of organization, preparation, and unity among Somali women, and resources, it was indeed a tough battle for Somali women to fight for the implementation of the 30 percent quota and later they could not win. Instead, clan leaders who were supposed to be representatives of both men and women in respective clans and who were granted the authority to nominate and select clan members (most men) ended up selecting more men than women to represent them in the new Parliament.
Displaced women in Dolow, Gedo in August 2011.
Clan leaders often do not support women to represent their clans in politics. As I argued elsewhere, these leaders “...do not grasp that Somalia ... needs its resourceful women to contribute to its reconstruction” including the political reconstruction of the country. Furthermore, the international community that supported the process that ended the political transitioning in 2012 was more interested in completing the process on time and did not place sufficient pressure on the male actors including the Signatories of the Road Map and clan elders to honor and materialize the minimum 30 percent of women’s quota. Without international support, Somali women were left alone to place pressure on their clan elders, and their demands fell on deaf ears.
The sexist, non-inclusive and discriminatory clan system and the 4.5 clan formula used to share power among all clans in Somalia has also contributed to the under-representation of women in the new state institutions including Parliament. Such formula used as a tool for power sharing is inherently sexist, non-inclusive and non-participatory.
Through the 4.5 clan formula clan elders who were nominating and selecting their male clan members made many justifications to women and often told them “our clan is only given few positions in the new government, thus, we are not going to give those few positions to women when our men are still under-represented”. Thus, the 4.5 clan formula was used to select men representing different clans to hold political positions and these same men nominated and selected by clan elders were assumed to be representing women, and in reality, they did not. Using a system that is sexist and discriminatory will inevitably deny women from having access to decision-making process and representation in emerging institutions in Somalia.
The marginalization of Somali women from politics is justified by the belief that women lack the education, wisdom, the right gender, leadership skills and capacities needed to participate in formal politics. Despite their marginalization, Somali women are committed to exercising their citizenship and political rights. The marginalization of women from the new political system will have profound ramifications on Somalia and its attempt to adopt democratic and inclusive political systems beneficial to all Somalis regardless of their gender, ethnicity and age.
Socio-cultural barriers that deny women representation in politics need to be addressed. Social, cultural and political acceptance and commitment are vital in ensuring the representation of women in post-transitional politics in Somalia. Somali women have to fight for their inclusion in politics and must come up with a number of creative strategies to gain space within the political system. For instance, women activists and grassroots women in both rural and urban areas need to engage with the few female parliamentarians and work with them closely to draft legislations that address gender issues and push for women’s agenda.
The current male-dominated political system in Somalia can be changed through the implementation of a quota for women and ensuring that such a quota is included in the Provisional Constitution. In addition, attitudes towards women’s leadership need to change and the Somali society needs to fully accept and acknowledge that Somali women are capable leaders and have every right to be a part of all emerging political and economic structures. To avert future omission by clan elders, it is critical that Somali women engage with their clan leaders and hold them accountable if they oppose their participation in politics in Somalia.
Promoting gender equality and inclusivity is also the responsibility of the state. To increase the participation and representation of women in current political processes and institutions, the new government must provide significant attention to gender issues and develop policies and programs that tackle gender discrimination and marginalization, gender-based violence, poverty, unemployment and illiteracy.
International community can also assist the new Somali government to adopt mechanisms to increase the participation of women and youth and adopt legal frameworks for women and youth rights. They should also provide technical and resource support, and leadership training for women and their organizations to champion for women’s participation in the new political institutions and women to run for political offices and demand accountability from their political leaders. Such support should also build the leadership capacities and abilities of women to not only contest for political offices in their respective communities but also to raise awareness of gender issues and promote inclusive politics and gender equality in Somalia.
The author is an activist, feminist and researcher. She holds a doctoral degree in Women’s Studies from York University, Toronto, Canada. She is founder and director of Somali Women’s Studies Centre, a research centre that is based in Mogadishu, Somalia and Nairobi, Kenya.
Photos: Shukria Dini
Abdi, Cawo (2012). Marginalising women in Somali politics. Al Jazeera, August 24, 2013.
Aisha (2012). Interview with the author, 20 October, Mogadishu, Somalia.
Amina (2012). Interview with the author, 11October, Mogadishu, Somalia.
Anab (2012). Interview with the author, 12 October, Mogadishu, Somalia.
Anderson, Shelley (2000). Crossing the Lines: Women’s Organizations in Conflict Resolutions. The Society for International Development, 43(3): 34–39.
Barni (2012). Interview with the author, 9 October, Mogadishu, Somalia.
Bop, Codou (2001). Women in conflict: Their Gains and their Loses. In Sheila Meintjes, Anu Pillay & Meredeth Turshen (eds.): The Aftermath: Women in Post-conflict Transformation. London and New York: Zed Books, 19–34.
Bunch, Charlotte (2004). Feminism, peace, human rights and human security. In Luciana Ricciutelli, Angela Miles & Margaret H. McFadden (eds.): Feminism politics, activism and vision: Local and global challenges. London and New York: Zed Books, 76–86.
Cockburn, Cynthia (1998). The space between us: Negotiating gender and national identities in conflict. London: Zed Books.
Date-Bah, Eugenia (1996). Sustainable peace after war: Arguing the need for major integration of gender perspectives in post-conflict programming. Geneva: International Labour Office.
Dini, Shukria (2012). Clan Leaders: Major Obstacle to Somali Women’s Political Participation. Operation 1325, August 3, 2012.
Gardner, Judith (2004). Changing Roles and Responsibilities in the Family. In Judith Gardner & Judy El Bushra (eds.): Somalia – The Untold Story: The War Through the Eyes of Somali Women. London, Sterling, Virginia: Pluto Press, 99–106.
Gardner, Judith & Judy El-Bushra, eds. (2004). Somalia – The Untold Story: The War Through the Eyes of Somali Women. London, Sterling, Virginia: Pluto Press.
Handrahan, Lori (2004). Conflict, Gender, Ethnicity and Post-conflict Reconstruction. Security Dialogue 35(4): 429–445.
Hassan, Zainab (2012). A Call for Sisterhood: A Paradigm Shift in Somali Political Leadership. Hiiraan Online, August 18, 2012.
Jamaad (2012). Interview with the author, 23 October, Mogadishu, Somalia.
Lindsey, Charlotte (2005). The Impact of Armed Conflict on Women. In Helen Durham & Tracey Gurd (eds.): Listening to the Silences: Women and War. Leiden: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 21–36.
Newman, Nancy M. ed. (1998). True to Ourselves: A Celebration of Women Making a Difference. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
Pankhurst, Donna (2004). The ‘Sex War’ and Other Wars: Towards a Feminist Approach to Peacebuilding. In Haleh Afshar & Deborah Eade (eds.): Development, Women, and War: Feminist Perspectives. London: Oxfam, 28–42.
Rehn, Elisabeth & Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (2002). Women, War and Peace: The Independent Experts’ Assessment on the Impact of Armed Conflict on Women and Women’s Role in Peace-building. New York: UNIFEM.
Thomas, Sue & Clyde Wilcox eds. (2005). Women and Elective Office. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Turshen, Meredeth & Ousseina Alidou (2000). Africa: Women in the Aftermath of Civil War. Race and Class 41(4): 81–92.
United Nations Security Council (2000). Security Council Resolution 1325 (UN DOCS / Res / 1325). Go’aankii 1325 ee Golaha Ammaanka. Translation: Shukria Dini and Abdirahman Dini Osoble. Accessed on December 19, 2012.
Williams, Suzanne (2001). Contested Terrain: Oxfam, Gender, and the Aftermath of War. Gender and Development 9(3): 19–28.