Mogadishu, 7 March, 2016 – Somali women are calling for more involvement in the country’s political and decision-making processes, as the country joins the rest of the world to mark International Women’s Day tomorrow. The theme of this year’s celebration is “Pledge for Parity” and “Planet 50 – 50: Step It Up for Gender Equality” which roots for equal opportunities for both gender. In Somalia, women are rising up following more than two decades of civil war and a culture impediments to participate in the country’s stabilisation efforts including playing roles in the country’s security and political growth.
To date, Somalia has mainstreamed gender issues into the country’s Provisional Federal Constitution; with discussions to better cater for women in the new constitution that is currently being written.
Asha Abdulle Siyad of the Somali Women Leadership Initiative (SWLI), says there has been tremendous progress regarding the status of women. “There was a culture that said that Somali women cannot participate or be part of the political processes but the last four years of this government, we have lobbied. When the regional administrations were being formed, we participated. We went to every region to mobilise the women, to reconcile them and to show them how to unite as women and advocate for their rights together as women,” she said.
Ms. Asha emphasizes that the voices of women need to be heard, adding that they need to be among the decision makers, if their views are to be taken seriously.
“It is very important because in Somalia, it is estimated that women and girls constitute 70% of the population. So if women are not part of the decision making process, then who will speak for their needs or their rights? They have to be part of the political administration; they have to be on that decision making table so that they can voice the needs women, the needs of girls, everything about women,” adds Asha Abdulle.
Despite efforts to improve the lives of Somali women, they still face challenges that negatively impact them.
Amina Arale is the Executive Director of Somali Women Development Centre, an organisation that provides assistance to disadvantaged women. She says there are critical issues that require urgent attention.
“Domestic violence or in general gender-based violence Including rape, female genital mutilation, domestic violence, denial of resources, inheritance denial. These are the social problems that the Somali women face. There is emotional abuse, which makes the women feel inferior. We need the government and civil society to heed our appeal and work towards realising big change for the women next year. We need a national action plan to address the social problems that we are facing now”.
Amina hopes that once relevant policies and legislation on women have been put in place, women will be better protected. “The government is finalizing the draft FGM Policy, it is not yet passed but we need to advocate to have it adopted by Parliament so that we can finally have the FGM policy for the protection of these young girls. And also there is the draft Sexual Abuse Bill; it needs to be accelerated through Parliament. We need all these policies,” she said.
A gender focal person with the Federal Ministry of Health Mariam Hussein, says there is increased awareness especially on myths attached FGM and religion, but adds that more effort needs to be invested in total eradication of the practice.
“FGM was previously attributed to tradition; now we want to move step by step to address the cultural behaviour. We want to achieve zero tolerance to FGM. The culture in Somalia is changing. We want to empower the girl child, through education. When they stay at home, that may be a problem, when they come to school, they gain education. So we need to encourage our girl child,” adds Mariam.
“ We just need to go out to lobby, advocate, have conversations about that old culture, how we get rid of that culture, even with men. If men don’t support women and help them to remove the barriers that prohibit them from being part of the politics and decision making, it will also be difficult,” says SWLI’s Asha Abdulle.
Asha’s appeal to women is, “to unite, as women, to do things together, to lobby for each other. Support each other, support those who are willing to be part of the politics and be united as women and talk, because if you don’t talk about what challenges there are, the pros and cons of being part of the politics, they will not understand it.”
The African Union has declared 2016 the African Year of Human Rights with particular focus on the rights of women. It is the year when African countries who are member states of the AU are expected to expedite policies and laws that create gender parity and equal opportunities for women.