Women's Exclusion Worsens Somali Crises

On July 22, 2011 the newly appointed Somali Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali, a Harvard-trained professor of economics, announced his 49-member cabinet. There are only two women in it: one minister and one vice minister. Yet, Somali women and children are the primary victims of ongoing conflict and deepening drought and famine in Somalia. According to UNICEF, a child dies every six minutes in the areas hard hit by drought in the Horn of Africa. In addition, all international studies show that women and children are the most vulnerable groups in societies under stress.

But with continued, systemic UN and Western support, the Somali Transitional Federal Government continues to exclude women from all decision-making arenas. Apart from the formality of mentioning women and children as footnotes in UN and government speeches, Somalia is pursuing business as usual.

The political sidelining of women in Somalia goes against both national and international conventions. Resolution 1325 adopted in 2000, for instance, calls on all UN agencies and all UN member states to support and promote the full and effective participations of women at all stages of peace processes and for ending gender-based violence against women and girls living in armed conflict zones. Over a decade after adopting resolution 1325, and after 20 years of civil war, Somalia does not accede to the basic tenants of this UN convention.

At a national level, meanwhile, Article 29 of the Somali transitional charter guarantees a 12 percent quota for women in parliament. But of the current 550 transitional federal parliamentarians only 38 are women. In addition, there is only one female permanent secretary out of the current 18 government ministries.

The newly appointed prime minister and his government should create genuine mechanisms to ensure the full participation of Somali women as citizens, as guaranteed by the Transitional Charter. The UN, regional powers, and Western governments, which all profess concern for Somalia, must get serious about their obligations and begin representing all Somalis, not just their narrow national and institutional interests.

Whatever the virtues of the prevailing 4.5 clan-based formula for selection of clan representatives and power-sharing (designed to balance power among four principle clans and five minorities), it applies only to Somali men. Whether religious, secular, or educated, the male-dominated Somali political leadership continues to deny women participation in the political process. In practice, the 4.5 clan-based formula has not created any serious space for Somali women. Both indigenously and internationally, Somali women simply do not matter.

Without the full participation of Somali women, and their contribution and commitment to building sustainable and durable peace platforms, no effective peace will ever be generated or preserved in Somalia. Including women in all stages of the decision-making process will improve security because women suffer more when there is insecurity and therefore are more committed to the establishment and maintenance of security. Women are not warlords or gun traffickers and do not stand to gain power, money, or prestige from continued instability and violence. The inclusion of women will also improve the reconciliation process because women are important actors who have contributed to resolving conflicts in their communities in Somalia. Because of their marital and clan relationships, women can reach out to various stakeholders and often act as go-betweens with the parties in conflict. Women are key economic actors in Somalia and are involved in small business in order to provide for their families, so their participation is vital to the country's economic development.

Finally, Somali women lead more than 50 percent of the local NGOs delivering humanitarian assistance. So, having women in important political positions will lead to transparency and accountability in the delivery of humanitarian aid to the vulnerable population. Therefore, women must be appointed as advisors, strategists, actors, planners, and managers of humanitarian assistance.

More than 20 years of the same game has left Somalia in a mess. The systemic absence of Somali women in the Somali peace and nation-building process has hampered progress within Somalia. Participation in the peace-building process is a right to which Somali women are entitled, not a favor that is bestowed on them.

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