By Dr. Luay Shabaneh
UNFPA ASRO Regional Director
Writing about Somalia is nostalgic for respect and love for this great country whose greatness is evident in the greatness of Somali women. Those women whose flame of hope has never faded despite all challenges, war burden and social norms that suppress them harshly. They show toughness, determination and courage. They have borne the burdens of war, displacement, famine, and sexism, and have always held the initiative and persevered to secure a place worthy of what they offer their community. Just days ago the Somali human rights defender, Zahra Mohamed Ahmad, was announced to be one of the recipients of the 2021 U.S. Secretary of State's annual International Women of Courage Award.
Amina Mohamed Abdi was only 24 years old when she first ran for parliament in 2012. She won, becoming one of the few women in Somalia's parliament. Currently, Somali women account for 24 percent of Somalia’s parliamentary seats.
Asha Hagi Elmi was the first Somali woman to sign a peace agreement in 2004 to campaign for women’s representation in the 2012 and 2016 parliamentary processes.
Somali Women are present in the cabinet leading crucial sectors as Her Excellency Dr. Fawziya Abikar heads the Federal Ministry of Health and Human Services and Her Excellency Hanifa Mohamed Ibrahim leads The Ministry of Women and Human Rights Development Dr. Leyla Hussein OBE is a passionate campaigner to end female genital mutilation (FGM). She is also the founder of the Dahlia Project, the UK’s first specialist therapeutic service for FGM survivors.
On this International Women's Day, UNFPA reiterates the call to support Somali women to enjoy all their rights including reproductive rights and to assume the leadership positions to create better societies. While women are the victims of wars, they never initiated them, therefore might have a better chance than men might to finding durable solutions for protracted crisis Somalia is facing since decades.
Governance and politics in Somalia are largely male-driven and dominated due to historically gendered discriminatory social norms, practices, and institutional barriers that impede women's capacity to participate in leadership roles meaningfully.
The feminization of poverty, specifically lack access to financial resources, larger scale of illiteracy among women, gender-based violence, are significant barriers.
Somalia faces pre-existing complex humanitarian crises. In 2021, a total of 5.9 million people are currently in need of humanitarian assistance across Somalia, including 2.6 million internally displaced persons (IDPs). Women and girls face the worst consequences of all.
The 2020 Somali Health and Demographic Survey indicates that over the years, several attempts have been made to improve life for women. The Provisional Constitution of Somalia has a number of positive implications for the status of women, particularly on the involvement of women in leadership and decision-making. However, most Somali women are still either excluded from decision-making and asset ownership, or operate through a patriarchal filter in these areas—mainly due to cultural restrictions on their movement and asset ownership.
The introduction of the 30 per cent parliamentary gender quota in Somalia in 2016 marked a significant and important step towards women’s equal political representation. However, gender quotas have not been necessarily translated into meaningful influence and impact for women, as seen in the lack of voice and influence of women in governance over critical gender-responsive legislation and policies.
The politicization of clan identity, also known as clannism, is one of the most significant barriers to women’s political participation and leadership in the country.
Shifting discriminatory gender norms through consensus building, dialogues to support greater women’s participation in politics and governance is key to change the political landscape for women in Somalia.
Strengthening education and training opportunities for girls and young women in leadership and civic rights and providing access to female political aspirants to run for office are some of the strategies that would deter barriers that stop women’s full participation in governance and politics.
Supporting mentorship, linked to positive role models and platforms for constructive debates, would foster building confidence in women's participation in governance and politics.
Somalia institutions need to be more inclusive to allow for more participation and representation of women in governance at all levels. Women and men in Somalia need to work more closely together within civil society and political circles and strengthen locally-led linkages between politics and civil society to enhance legitimacy for women’s political empowerment.
Introduction and use of quotas are necessary tools to expand space for women. Still, these quotas must be utilized so that qualified women are allowed to be in governance. Today presents an opportunity for us all to put our weight behind the movement towards achieving better and more equal societies. Let us rally support for women in leadership positions.
UNFPA has been active in Somalia since the 1970s and plays a lead role in supporting efforts towards attaining gender equality. Promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women and adolescent girls is central to UNFPA’s mandate and is at the heart of its work.