Men made mess of So­ma­lia, now women want to fix it

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Raped, abused and sub­jected to gen­i­tal mu­ti­la­tion, many women suf­fer ter­ri­bly in So­ma­lia, an un­re­pen­tantly pa­tri­ar­chal coun­try shown by suc­ces­sive sur­veys as one of the worst places to be fe­male. A quota re­serv­ing 30 per­cent of par­lia­men­tary seats for women in cur­rent elec­tions is sup­posed to help bring change and place at least a share of po­lit­i­cal power in fe­male hands - but it faces stiff re­sis­tance. “So­mali women par­tic­i­pate in daily life but when it comes to pol­i­tics it is chal­leng­ing,” said Deqa Yasin, the fe­male deputy head of the na­tional elec­tion or­ga­niz­ing body. “How do you make the process as in­clu­sive as pos­si­ble?”

Un­der in­ter­na­tional pres­sure, So­ma­lia’s top politi­cians - fed­eral and state lead­ers, all men, known as the Na­tional Lead­er­ship Fo­rum - in Au­gust an­nounced the 30 per­cent fe­male quota be ap­plied to the 54 Se­nate seats and the 275 par­lia­men­tary seats. The quota also ap­plies to the 14,025 elec­toral col­lege del­e­gates who are the only peo­ple out of per­haps 12 mil­lion So­ma­lis to vote for mem­bers of par­lia­ment.

Af­ter years of strife, po­lit­i­cal wran­gling and inse­cu­rity mean the Horn of Africa na­tion was un­able to hold elec­tions by uni­ver­sal suf­frage. But prom­ises of fe­male em­pow­er­ment have not been kept. As of Thurs­day, just 23 of 142 par­lia­men­tary seats (16 per­cent) and 10 out of 43 se­nate seats (23 per­cent) had been won by women. The pre­vi­ous uni­cam­eral par­lia­ment had 14 per­cent women, so the fresh fig­ures are a small im­prove­ment. It is un­clear what, if any­thing, might be done when the fi­nal tally falls short of the quota.

Men, Guns, Money

Clan and tra­di­tion are at the heart of So­ma­lia’s elec­toral process, which means women are not. The 51 mem­bers of each elec­toral col­lege that votes for a given par­lia­men­tary seat are them­selves cho­sen by a group of 135 tra­di­tional male el­ders. In what has been called a “lim­ited” elec­tion, the se­na­tors and MPs - once all elected will come to­gether to vote for a new pres­i­dent, but the planned date of Novem­ber 30 will not be met.

Faced with the rul­ing on a fe­male quota, many clan lead­ers do not wish to be rep­re­sented by women and re­gard fe­male seats as wasted. Some of the many de­lays in the elec­tion timetable have been caused by ar­gu­ments and horse-trad­ing over which clan would have to al­low one of its pre­cious seats to be re­served for a woman. The re­luc­tance means that the 30 per­cent quota is un­likely to be met, said Michael Keat­ing, the UN’s top rep­re­sen­ta­tive in So­ma­lia.

De­spite the chal­lenges “there’s been a slight change of po­lit­i­cal cul­ture” be­cause of it, with more women in­volved than in the past, ac­cord­ing to Keat­ing. Decades of con­flict have played a role. A sec­u­lar dic­ta­tor­ship in which women held pub­lic posts was over­thrown in 1991 by a loose al­liance of clan-based mili­tias with war­lord bosses un­der whom women were in­creas­ingly re­pressed. Men - usu­ally with guns and al­ways af­ter money - have ruled since that time and presided over So­ma­lia’s col­lapse into the world’s pre­em­i­nent failed state.

‘We are Not Unique’

Some ar­gue that the time has come to give women a chance to rem­edy the sit­u­a­tion. Miriam Aweis, 46, won a seat re­served for women in the port city of Kis­mayo. She said that dur­ing the long years of war, women were “the back­bone of the com­mu­nity” yet “the tra­di­tional sys­tem we have” ex­cludes them from pol­i­tics. As min­is­ter for women in 2011, Aweis was an early fighter for a quota of fe­males in pol­i­tics. “We had to talk to the politi­cians to get them to ac­cept that women are part of this process and de­ci­sion-mak­ing,” she said. — AFP

BAIDOA, So­ma­lia: This photo taken on Nov 16, 2016 shows a So­mali woman cel­e­brat­ing af­ter the re­sults of an elec­tion were an­nounced. — AFP

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