Somali women fight for promised share of parliamentary seats

By Mahmoud Mohamed in Mogadishu

August 01, 2012

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Somali women are not giving up.

  • Women at the National Constituent Assembly hold up signs calling for their rights. Tribal elders failed to give women 30% of the seats as promised in previous Roadmap agreements. [Mahmoud Mohamed/Sabahi]

    Women at the National Constituent Assembly hold up signs calling for their rights. Tribal elders failed to give women 30% of the seats as promised in previous Roadmap agreements. [Mahmoud Mohamed/Sabahi]

They are fighting to get their promised 30% representation in the next parliament after they failed to reach the same quota in the National Constituent Assembly (NCA), which approved the draft constitution on Wednesday (August 1st).

The Garowe Principles, signed by Somali leaders in December 2011 and bolstered in February, stated that 30% of seats in the NCA and the parliament would be reserved for women.

However, promises made by political leaders have yet to be implemented, as women were only given 25% of the seats in the NCA, according to Halima Ismail, a member of the Technical Selection Committee.

Somali women occupied 7% of seats in the Transitional Federal Government parliament, which will expire in August, even though the Transitional Federal Charter reserves 12% of parliamentary seats for women. Women's representation in the current cabinet is only about 5%.

"As Somali women have not been given the promised quota in the NCA, they fear a recurrence of this scenario in the new parliament, which is currently being formed," Ismail said. "As a result, they are fighting to obtain their 30% slice of the parliament."

The Technical Selection Committee was responsible for verifying that all nominations to the NCA met criteria established in previous Roadmap agreements. The body will also review the elders' nominations for members of parliament.

"The Technical Selection Committee has done all it can to put more pressure on tribal leaders to grant women their 30% share of the NCA seats," she said. "However, some tribes have not abided by and respected this quota for women, which has led to a low percentage of female representation in the NCA."

Women face cultural obstacles to political equality

Social and cultural hurdles diminish Somali women's chances for reaching decision-making positions, said Malyun Sheikh Haider, head of the Mogadishu-based Centre for Evaluation and Development.

"Somali women are being marginalised in the political process due to discrimination, which places women in a second-class position to men and is a result of the prevalence of a tribal and male-dominant mentality in Somali society," she told Sabahi.

In Somalia, parliamentary seats are allocated using clan-based power sharing system, the 4.5 formula, where equal number of seats in parliament goes to each of the four major Somali clans, while a coalition of minority clans receive half that number.

Haider says this system favours men's interests at the state level. Tribal leaders nominate men to fill the seats allocated for their tribe, diminishing women's chances for incorporation into the political system.

"In spite all of that, Somali women are fighting to overcome these existing obstacles that stem from cultural baggage, to obtain their 30% quota in the next parliament and to stimulate their role in political life," she said. "The 30% quota for women is a very positive step, but the problem lies in implementation because the political process in Somalia is rather complicated."

Zahra Abdullahi, a women's rights activist, also said Somali women are treated like second-class citizens.

"The fundamental problem is that Somali women do not have sufficient information to educate them on their rights," she said. "Most Somali families deliberately pull their daughters out of school at an early age to marry them off, and no one gives women the courage or inspiration to leave their homes and demand their rights."

"All Somali citizens are equal before the law, but Somali women are still subjected to injustice and marginalisation in the political arena," she told Sabahi.

In other provisions to protect women's rights, the new constitution determines the age of puberty for women to protect against child marriage and prohibits female genital mutilation, a widespread Somali tradition -- changes which some Muslim leaders have opposed.

Abdullahi said she is hopeful Somalis will change their perspective on women and urged Somali women to fight for their rights and take advantage of the quota.

Fadumo Hassan, a 24-year-old university student majoring in sociology, said she thinks Somali women should temporarily refrain from seeking senior political positions such as president or prime minister.

"Despite the fact that the new constitution allows women to run for all government positions, Somali society makes the possibility of a woman holding a senior position in the government, such as president or prime minister, far-fetched," Hassan told Sabahi.

Ensuring that women have an active role in governance will help build a stronger foundation for state institutions in the new system, Hassan said. She said women could have been helpful in restoring peace and security in Somalia, but they were left out of the political process for the past 21 years.

President Ahmed reassures women that their rights will be protected

Somali President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed reiterated his support for the women's quota in parliament during an iftar meal to break the daily fast for Ramadan on July 27th.

Addressing women leaders and women's rights activists at the presidential palace, the president commended the efforts of Somali women in their peace efforts and rebuilding the country.

"We cannot ignore the role played by Somali women, who are an important pillar in the country's peace process," he said. "It goes without saying that Somali women are the backbone of Somali society and we cannot deny the important role played by women in the past and present in the fight for freedom and independence and their efforts in establishing peace and rebuilding the country in the past few years."

Muhubo Yusuf Jama, a member of the NCA and a guest at Ahmed's iftar, called for an end to the mentality that belittles female competence and dictates that women should stay at home.

"The role of Somali women in various educational, social, developmental and cultural sectors is evident, which makes it imperative that women be given full political rights, because each individual has the right to take part in running the affairs of the country," she told Sabahi.

She welcomed the president's statements. "Women are fighting for their share of the parliament and to have a political voice as active participants in the decision-making process," she said.

Jama added that women have had to shoulder a large burden. "Women have suffered the most as a result of the ongoing conflict in the country over the past two decades," she said. "Somali women have endured a lot of pain due to armed conflict and many have lost their husbands and children."

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Reader's Comments

  • Nour Hashi
    August 16, 2012 @ 07:58:54PM

    It is unfortunate that African women do not participate in politics by vying for a political office. They don’t actively partake in politics in any country. For this reason, women are unfortunately under-represented in general political arena because they don’t initially vie for political office in the first place. This could be a possible cause for the poor living conditions and under-development faced by African women and countries respectively where African women complain of facing pathetic and difficult living conditions due to lack of awareness and education programs. All these issues made women to lose confidence. As a result, I think when African women go to live in other countries outside Africa; they get the ability to fulfill any undertaking in life where some are especially able to portray their ability well but the African continent does not present such opportunities to women. This could be a possible cause for problems faced by women such as unwillingness to participate in political issues. However, if women are encouraged, their conditions will change for the better and they can become active participants in politics and in other important issues as well.

  • nimco
    August 2, 2012 @ 12:59:07AM

    Peace on you. I think women should not forgo their rights at any one time. 30% is a very small percentage and we should advocate for their rights and search for it if we can get to a higher level. This is a very important step that has been taken forward. If we try our best, I believe our hard work can take us to the next level. The new government should give consideration to these issues. I would like to urge Somali women not to give up their position for anyone and they should be united. They should unanimously advocate for their rights and should not give up their positions to anyone. (I would like to wish Somali women success and development).

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