The Political and Civic Engagement of Somali Women

From The Heritage Institute


International and regional efforts to increase the effective participation of women in peace building and in the reconstruction and development of societies have gained momentum in the past two decades. In 2000, United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 formally addressed the need to change women’s continued exclusion from participation in peace processes. UNSCR 1325 acknowledges the pivotal role women should and do play in mitigating conflict and sustaining peace. Furthermore, the African Union has named 2015 as the Year of Women’s Empowerment and Development, reiterating the importance of women’s representation in peace talks — and in other political processes — both at national and regional levels in Africa.

However, at national (and sub-national) stages the implementation and incorporation of international resolutions and declarations have proved to be more challenging. Some grassroots efforts by women in the Somali region may already have achieved some of the goals charted in international and regional resolutions and declarations such as those listed above. A closer examination of Somali women’s long involvement in community development and peace building corrects the narrative that women have largely been absent from these debates. Indeed, Somali women have historically been important stakeholders in processes of state building and development — both before and after the collapse of the state in 1991.

Gender in Politics in Somalia: Access and Influence in a PostConflict State (GENSOM) is a two-year research collaboration between the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) and the Heritage Institute for Policy Studies (HIPS) that explores the civic and political engagement of Somali women, past and present. The research investigates how women in Somalia have defined their achievements throughout history and explores the factors that have enabled and encouraged their successes as well as those that have constrained them. To date more than 36 in-depth life history interviews have been conducted in Hargeisa, Garowe, Galkayo, and Mogadishu as well as in diaspora locations including Toronto, London, Oslo, Nairobi and Columbus, Ohio.

Today women in the Somali region make positive contributions to their communities by applying their knowledge, skills and financial resources through formal and non-formal political processes. Indeed, their sense of responsibility towards society and family has been a powerful motivator for civic engagement both in the Somali region and abroad. Despite having a long and diverse track record of civic and political engagement, women in the Somali region have remained largely absent from official narrated and written histories of the region. Likewise, current national and international debates about Somalia’s political and economic development largely discard examples of women’s contributions. This renders robust debate on women’s roles and existing contributions timely and relevant.

This policy brief lays out some ways in which Somali women have addressed their exclusion from history and why writing is an important instrument for civic and political engagement and for combating marginalization. We also present the multiple ways women define and enact civic and political engagements and argue that it is important to take into account the multiplicity of Somali women’s experiences when tackling questions related to their status in society and their chosen forms of engagement.

Read the policy brief…

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