Tuesday May 21, 2019These processes could make 2020, the year of the twentieth anniversary of United Nations Security Council resolution 1325,
a turning point for women in Somalia. Women and girls in Somalia have
faced enormous burdens throughout the country’s history of civil war.
Conflict and displacement caused by drought and floods have aggravated
high levels of sexual and gender-based violence. This violence destroys
women’s lives, the health and welfare of households, the cohesion of
communities, and trust in the state. Estimated to affect 98 percent of Somali women and girls, female genital mutilation (FGM) further undermines their health and access to education.
by Deqa Yasin Hagi Yusuf
Somalia is at a crossroads in the promotion and protection of women’s rights. The Provisional Constitution,
agreed upon in 2012, is currently being revised. In 2020, Somalis are
to adopt their new constitution through a public vote. In 2020–21, they
will participate in the first one-person one-vote elections in the
country in decades, and new electoral laws to govern these and future
polls are starting to be drafted.
these and other burdens, women have played active roles in sustaining
communities in Somalia. During conflict, women became breadwinners for
most families. They now head about half of all households,
a percentage that continues to increase. Women’s organizations have
made, and continue to make, key contributions to the delivery of
essential services, including healthcare and education. Women have also played important roles
in building peace, using their positions within clans, communities, and
the home to foster dialogue and reconciliation between conflicting
The revision of Somalia’s constitution and electoral laws provides a
unique window of opportunity to enable responses to the challenges faced
by women and girls, empowering them to fully contribute to efforts to
build sustainable peace and development. By securing progressive
constitutional gender equality provisions, a critical foundation could
be laid for efforts to advance women’s rights throughout Somalia’s
state-building process. By amending electoral and political party laws
to fully promote gender equality, women’s meaningful participation can
be enshrined in the foundations of the political system.
opportunity to secure such measures is not seized, existing achievements
will most likely be lost. In 2016, women obtained 24 percent of seats
in parliament, up from 12 percent in previous elections. However, this
was a result of a political commitment at the time, rather than binding,
enduring legal provisions. The Provisional Constitution
of 2012 does provide that “Women must be included, in an effective way,
in all national institution.” What constitutes “an effective way,”
however, remains open to interpretation.
Minister Hassan Ali Khayre (front row, third from right) and Minister
of Women and Human Rights Development Deqa Yasin Hagi Yusuf (second from
right) with attendees of the Somali Women’s Convention. (Ministry of
Women and Human Rights Development of Somalia)
The Somali Women’s Charter
question, then, is how can these opportunities be seized? The first
step is for women to come together to develop joint demands for their
rights in the constitution, the electoral laws, and beyond.
This was the rationale behind the Somali Women’s Convention,
which took place over three days in Mogadishu in March. Some 350 women
and gender champions from across Somalia and the diaspora convened to
develop a shared agenda for women’s rights: “The Somali Women’s Charter.” This meeting and the resultant charter serve as a strong starting point for change.
the charter affirms that Somali women are “equal partners working for
peace and political processes, leading us towards security, stability
and sustainable development for all” and calls “for the Constitution of
the Federal Republic of Somalia to enshrine the unconditional commitment
to gender equality, human rights and empowerment of women.” Specific
demands include special representation of women in all public
institutions through a 50 percent quota, zero tolerance for gender-based
violence and passage of pending legislation on sexual offenses, the
promotion and protection of women’s socio-economic rights, and other
steps to advance gender equality and women’s empowerment.
end of the Women’s Convention, Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khayre
expressed his commitment to “fully implement” the charter. He also
affirmed his government’s “tremendous gratitude and respect for Somali
women. We know the immense sacrifices you made to hold our nation
together in the most difficult of times…You have always been and
continue to be the backbone of this nation.”
The Women’s Charter
and its acceptance by the government is a milestone for women’s rights
in Somalia. However, to make the charter a reality, a change in work on
women’s rights is needed. This will involve a number of difficult tasks.
Where Do We Go From Here?
there must be increased investment in women’s rights in Somalia.
Available financial resources do not currently match the scale of the
challenges involved. In fact, an analysis of aid flows conducted by the
Ministry of Planning, with support from the World Bank and the United
Nations, suggests that humanitarian and development aid dedicated to
gender equality and human rights has declined significantly
in the past three years. Without a serious effort to address these
gaps, the ambitious demands of the Women’s Charter cannot be realized.
there must be increased coordination of efforts to support women’s
rights. A multiplicity of local and international stakeholders are
involved in Somalia’s constitutional review and electoral process, and
other efforts to promote sustainable peace and development. To realize
the Women’s Charter, it must be used as a guide for engagement. This
will help ensure all efforts to promote inclusive politics and
constitution-making pull in the same direction, and are therefore
Third, the work to promote the charter should be
tailored to the specific context of Somalia. If approached
inappropriately, women’s rights can be a sensitive topic among certain
members of Somali society. To avoid backlash, those promoting the
Women’s Charter have to trust the leadership and expertise of local
actors in guiding their engagement.
Perhaps our greatest
challenge, however, is that we can only realize the Women’s Charter if
we act now. The constitutional review and development of electoral laws
are windows of opportunity, but these windows will close.
H.E. Deqa Yasin Hagi Yusuf serves as the Minister of Women and Human Rights Development of the Federal Government of Somalia.