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Women Slowly Making Political Inroads

UN Integrated Regional Information Networks, analysis, 14 July 2003

In the past, Somali women have not had a significant role in politics, but there are now signs that the trend is slowly changing. Although they only make up a small minority at the peace talks currently underway in Kenya—with 35 women out of 362 official delegates—this tiny step is seen as progress.

Many of the women at the current talks come from privileged groups which have been able to spend time abroad during part or all of the 13-year civil war.

Sarah Ndegwah manages the Somali Women’s Centre at the talks. She provides resources for women at the conference, and has produced a brochure titled, Women for Peace and Prosperity for All in Somalia.

A recurring theme in the women’s agenda is 25 percent representation in the new government. We want people to know that women are also capable, Ndegwah told IRIN. These are educated women who know what they’re doing—lawyers, engineers—and they can also be part of the reconstruction of Somalia.


The women remain optimistic that traditional male attitudes will change, starting with their male counterparts at the peace conference.

Asha Abdalla, a minister in Somalia’s Transitional National Government (TNG), noted that while most men at the talks had shown support for women’s increased involvement, this had not yet been translated into overwhelming backing for the women’s agenda.

Ibrahim Aan Hassan Kishbur, a delegate from the Rahanweyn Resistance Army (RRA), told IRIN that women’s participation was important. Women should play a big role, because if they are missing from the conference, women’s needs will also be absent, he said.

While many men favoured bringing the issue of women’s representation to a vote, they nevertheless voted against allocating 25 percent representation to women. Instead, delegates agreed on just 12 percent of seats in the new parliament for women—only slightly more than they were allocated at the Arta conference in Djibouti in 2000 which ushered in the TNG.

This is impossible because Somali women are more than half the population, Asha contended.


But to some, this small amount is a start. Somali-born Zahara Ashkir Guled has worked as a consultant on gender issues for several international organisations and is attending her first peace conference.

She said it was unlikely that anyone would become aware of the women’s agenda unless women were present at political meetings. You cannot raise your voice unless you are in the room, Zahara told IRIN.

Zahara, like most women at the talks, said she represented women and civil society, rather than any clan or political faction. She said this enabled women to maximise the number of seats they were allocated as a group.

Asha, and others, said women had not been give sufficient credit for their crucial role in Somali society, especially during the war. For the last 13 years, women have been the breadwinners, they were supporting the family, from outside and inside Somalia. The man was absent, she noted.

She called on the international community and the media to give greater priority to the input of women in the peace process. It looks as though they are listening more to those warlords than to regular people like the civil society, like intellectuals, like the women’s groups, she stressed.

And despite the persistent obstacles, a few women are making their presence felt in ways that would have been unlikely, if not impossible, a decade ago. Asha Abdalla recently announced her candidacy for president of Somalia.

Hopefully this is the time when a woman can challenge a man, she said. I think Somalia needs a change.