Clan leaders: Major Obstacle to Somali women’s Political Participation

somali woman

Imagine being a woman who has lived in a stateless, militarised, and violent country for over two decades. Despite all the challenges that come with war you manage to survive and feed your family; you exercise your agency and build peace within your community; you are a voice for change.  In all previous peace processes, you helped the stakeholders to reconcile and reach consensus when they locked horns. But when it comes to power and resource sharing, you are often pushed aside and denied access to power and informal decision-making processes. The society that you live in wants your resources and free labor but it neither wants you to be a part of formal decision-making nor recognises that you being part of the political process will lead to good governance, peace, and security. This is one of the obstacles facing Somali women in their struggle for peace and human rights in Somalia.

In order to understand the challenges women face in Somalia, one have to understand the clan system which is inimical to political inclusivity and women’s participation in politics. The clan system is a system that promotes the interests of male clan members. Women are second-class members within their own clans. The clan is the epitome and plays a major role in Somalia’s politics.

For instance, the 4.5 clan formula has been used as a tool for power-sharing. The (4.5) clan formula divides all Somali clans into four major factions that are equal in terms of size while several other clans are categorised as minority groups into a half (0.5). Women are marginalised in the clan system in every way. For instance, unlike men, they do not have certain entitlements such as the right to become leaders representing their own clans and access to formal decision-making processes. It is ironic that such a system together with its male leaders is being used to end the protracted political transitioning and promote a permanent political system in Somalia.

As I write this piece, there is an ongoing process which is intended to bring an end to two decades of political transitioning. The actors involved in the process include traditional leaders who are not gender sensitive and collectively oppose gender inclusivity. Most of them do not grasp that Somalia is a war-ravaged country which actually needs its resourceful women to contribute to its reconstruction.  It was clan leaders who selected the 825 National Constituency Assembly (NCA) members drawn from all clans in Somalia. These members then reviewed and approved an interim constitution that will be re-reviewed and revised by the next Parliament. According to the Garowe II Conference held in February 2012 in Garowe town, Puntland, Somalia, women are supposed to constitute 30 percent of the 825 NCA, but only 24 percent of the members are women.

Clan leaders often tell women wanting to become members of parliament that the number of seats designated to each clan are too few to allocate seats to women. Women with cross-clan marriages face additional challenges when aspiring to become members of parliament. These women are told to get the support and nomination from the clan in which they have married into – which is a deliberate strategy to marginalise and deny women access to seats in the next Parliament.

The end of the transition period presents opportunities in terms of promoting active participation of Somali women in political structures as well as giving more attention to women’s rights.   However, the traditional or clan leaders are a barrier to women’s equal participation. Some of these traditional leaders use religion to advance the idea that women cannot be leaders. However, our religion Islam has given a lot of rights and entitlements to women. Islam does not oppose women’s leadership.

The way the process is going now, I predict that the next Parliament will be male dominated again. This is due to the fact that men have the resources, their clan’s support, and are ferociously campaigning for seats. Women lack the resources, family connections, and the support of traditional leaders; because of this, the traditional leaders are more likely to exclude women from the next Parliament. Traditional or clan leaders hold the belief that politics are solely a domain for men and that Somali women lack the necessary knowledge, skills, and experience needed to participate in politics. This could not be further from the truth.

However, Somali women remain optimistic and have been lobbying hard to get the 30 percent quota in the next Parliament. We are urging the clan leaders to honor and implement this agreement.  Some women have appealed to their clan leaders and demanded that “women are an important force that should not be marginalised” and must be given the chance to contribute to the rebuilding of their nation.

In conclusion, the marginalisation of Somali women from politics will have profound ramification on Somalia and hamper the adoption of democratic and inclusive political systems. Somali women will not rest until their voices are heard loud and clear.  The international community needs to stand up for the women of Somalia and put pressure on local actors to honor and fulfill the quota agreed in Garowe. Women want to be given the opportunity as well as the space to effectively contribute to the rebuilding of their beloved Somalia; only then is sustainable peace and security possible.

Dr. Shukria Dini
Director of Somali Women’s Studies Centre

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