Somaliland: First Steps Taken to Increase Women’s Participation in Politics
In recent months, the developing nation of Somaliland has made a number of steps towards encouraging the active participation of women throughout its institutions. As the writer of the article below notes, newly-elected President Hon. Musa Bihi Abdiand and his cabinet made several suggestions on ensuring the inclusion of women in politics through a bill that is soon to be passed. According to the government, the bill is just the start of a larger progress to come, as women’s increasing involvement in politics will lead to the strengthening of women’s rights and reinforce Somaliland’s democratic principles.
The article below was published by Somaliland Press
Women are part of our society and their political engagement is invaluable. Building women’s and men’s equal participation in governance procedures is very important for sustaining inclusive and effective governance in Somaliland. As a developing society, it is very essential to recognize that women can play vital roles in their communities, as they are effective in advocating about pertinent issues that concern them. Regardless of the successes recorded in some Somaliland’s institutions, the underrepresentation of women in these political institutions is quite appalling. The reason for this is not far-fetched, as they face serious challenges trying to be a part of the political atmosphere of their country. These challenges include structural barriers emanating from discriminatory laws and cultural beliefs, which cripples the ability of women to vie for a political office.
Although there is a newly built democracy in Somaliland, tribalism is another limiting factor to women’s participation in Somaliland’s politics. The impact of this factor is enormous as it has its roots in the grassroots, the clans which are very crucial in getting elected into any political office. The traditions and the clan system favor only the male politicians and fails to recognize the woman as a permanent member of the family. In this system, a woman’s political ambition is not even given a chance to survive, as she does not even have a voice in her own constituency, let alone represent her people in the political landscape of the country. Other factors like social discrimination and aggressiveness towards the women folk, inability to get support as well as lack of adequate resources have really crippled the participation of women in the political affairs of the state.
It is true that women’s exclusion from the politics and decision-making tables was formalized by the culture but now the country has politically shifted from the clan-based to the multiparty system. Therefore, it is not just an issue of poor women representation in politics but also the poor development of inclusive and transparent democracies. Women have been playing a major role in Somaliland history and have greatly committed to independence, peace building, reconciliation and post-conflict reconstruction. It is clear that women are the backbone when it comes to the reconstruction of the country and advocating for national stabilization, human rights, and democracy. With this antecedence, women’s political participation will increase the legitimacy of the governance, transparency of the growing institutions and provide transformative leadership in all sectors of government. Also, their engagement will decrease the corruption, nepotism, tribalism, and injustice which is currently prevalent in several quarters. Women’s political involvement begins with increasing the number of slots allocated to women in vital decision-making positions like parliaments, local councils, and other governmental institutions. When we have a good number of female political figures in these positions, they stand a better chance of contributing more to nation building as well as addressing very important and challenging issues affecting the well-being of women.
However, women in Somaliland are still largely absent from national and local decision-making bodies and are excluded from political processes especially in recent times. Despite representing half the country’s population, women comprise less than 3 percent of Somaliland’s legislators. Evidence from developing countries around the world shows that an increase in women’s participation in the political life of their countries often leads to improved socio-economic conditions, as many of these women– more readily than their male counterparts– tackle poverty reduction and service delivery as areas of primary importance to their constituents and supporters, as seen in Rwanda. During the civil war and up to the 1994 genocide, women’s parliamentary participation was 18 percent at most. This number increased in the years leading up to the 2003 constitution, reaching a record 56.3 percent in 2008. The increased numbers of women’s participation are a result of gender-sensitive constitutional quotas, an innovative electoral structure, and the participation of partner institutions. Against this backdrop, in a bid to correct this, an electoral quota is considered an effective administrative tool which can pave way for a mandatory percentage of women candidates for the leadership and decrease the historic exclusion of the women from the politics. The outcome of a meeting at the presidential palace, which had Somaliland’s President, Hon. Musa Bihi Abdi and his cabinet in attendance revealed suggestions made to reserve a quota for women in parliamentary and local government elections. For, Mr. Musa Bihi Abdi this is a step in the right direction and it could be historic when it is approved by the parliament and the country’s house of elders. Once this bill is approved, it will bring a high increase in female political representation and will eliminate the domestic gender-based violence. This will also go a long way in strengthening women’s rights and addressing barriers to political partaking which are critical to achieving an equal society where everyone has his or her own voice by improving women’s access to justice, thereby increases citizens’ confidence in democracy.
Women’s exclusion from decision-making bodies is detrimental to democracy and any democracy that excludes half of its people is a big contradiction and huge failure. In that case, we need to work towards strengthening women’s rights and political participation, because increased female political influence will promote the growth of our democratic institutions and improve our social wellbeing.
Photo courtesy of University College London