Somalia: UN says women’s role in Somali politics is a prerequisite for lasting peace
Let me first of all congratulate Ireland on your presidency this month and thank you for the invitation to make a presentation today. I would also like to address my greetings to Ms. Shukria Dini, whom I had the pleasure of meeting during my visit.
I commend the Council for its leadership on women, peace and security and in particular the commitment of Ireland, Kenya and Mexico to prioritize this issue during their successive presidencies.
Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to visit Somalia. This was my seventh mission on women, peace and security in recent years, and the first in person since the start of the pandemic. It was also my second visit to Somalia on this issue.
The trip was made in solidarity with the calls of Somali women for full and equal participation in politics, including through the implementation of a 30% quota, and to express the international community’s support for elections timely, inclusive, peaceful and credible.
Somalia reached a milestone in its 2016 elections with 24% of parliamentary seats held by women. These figures show that progress is possible even under the most difficult circumstances. But even so, they fall short of the commitment made by Somali political leaders to achieve 30 percent female representation in parliament. Every woman matters.
There is a real fear that in the current elections to the People’s House, the levels of representation will decline, despite the promises and stipulations of the electoral agreements.
While in Mogadishu, I met President Farmajo, Prime Minister Roble, members of the National Advisory Council – made up of the Prime Minister and Presidents of Federal Member States, members of the Election Implementation Team federal, state-level election implementation teams and the Electoral Dispute Resolution Committee, women’s groups, civil society and traditional elders, as well as with representatives of the international community.
Consistently and broadly, I have heard a strong commitment to the principle of equal participation of women and the 30 percent quota.
It was heartening to hear from the National Advisory Council that they had agreed on measures to ensure election integrity, transparency, credibility and the gender quota.
I also appreciated the Prime Minister’s leadership and the concrete actions he took to strengthen the representation of women.
These include reducing application fees for women and appointing goodwill ambassadors to support and advocate for the 30 percent quota to leaders of federal member states.
It was also heartening to hear traditional sages recognize the central role of women in promoting peace and security in Somalia.
All are committed to the issue of the inclusion of women.
And yet, real challenges remain.
The women themselves spoke of persistent obstacles.
They find it difficult to access financial support to organize campaigns; nor do they have the political networks and connections of their male peers.
The political environment in general is not conducive to female representations, and many male leaders continue to promote male candidates.
These challenges are compounded by violence and discrimination. Women reported that in some states women candidates are not able to rent campaign offices – a simple and effective way to prevent them from being elected.
Overall, the women spoke of the need for greater protection against bullying, harassment and violence.
Just three days ago, Ms. Hibaaq Abukar, Women’s Affairs and Human Rights Advisor in the Prime Minister’s Office, was killed in a bomb attack in Mogadishu.
I pay tribute to Ms. Abukar and to all the Somali women who run risks every day to fight for their rights.
Women in al-Shabab-controlled areas face additional security concerns that undermine their efforts to campaign openly.
The women I met called for a concrete mechanism to ensure the implementation of the 30% quota and a move towards direct elections in the form of one person, one vote.
The current format of indirect selection leaves political decision-making in the hands of the elders of the clans, who are all men.
The women called on their leaders to fully implement all political agreements related to the elections. This includes the September 17, May 27, and August 22 communiqué, in which the leaders of the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) and Federal Member States (FMS) pledged to meet the 30% quota. for women.
Women also called for constitutional reforms that would create a permanent solution by reserving a proportion of parliamentary seats for women, and for women to be included in electoral committees, as delegates and candidates.
At the state level, the Ministers for the Status of Women with whom I spoke encouraged the United Nations to continue to support both the constitutional review process and a multi-party electoral system. They stressed that this is the key to increasing the participation of women in future elections and political processes.
It was also recognized that women’s economic empowerment is linked to political participation and has a direct impact on the ability of women to engage in public life. They called on the United Nations to redouble its efforts to support women’s opportunities, independence and participation in economic activities.
My visit to Somalia came at a time of heightened tensions among political leaders. In my talks with the President and the Prime Minister, I reinforced the message from the international community that Somalia must not revert to the divisions and conflicts of the past.
The two leaders pledged to do everything possible to avert a crisis by continuing dialogue, resolving issues peacefully and keeping the momentum of the elections.
Since then, the situation has changed and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General has informed you. Despite sustained negotiations, there has not yet been a breakthrough, and I encourage the Somali leadership to defuse tensions, find a compromise solution and continue progress on the elections which will strengthen stability in the region.
The need for regional stability was also underlined in the meetings I had with Presidents Kenyatta and Hassan in Kenya and Tanzania on the way to Somalia. The two heads of state stressed the need for increased and sustained attention by the international community to issues of stability in the Horn.
It is clear that Somalia is a neighborhood concern.
The country and the region need a safe transition, so that they can focus on consolidating the peace dividends and investing in the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals.
Somalia has gained tremendous momentum with its electoral process. It is essential that this continues until the finalization of the Upper House elections and the start of the Lower House process. In this regard, I welcome the announcement of the electoral calendar for the seats in Somaliland.
Going forward, I urge leaders to prioritize the full implementation of the electoral agreement; establish concrete mechanisms to implement the 30 percent quota; and strengthen efforts to protect women from violence. This includes equal access to justice for all women.
Somalis cannot move their country forward and build confidence in institutions and elections without equal participation of women. Inclusive elections will lay the foundations for a resilient, sustainable and inclusive country.
I made this second visit to Somalia because women’s political participation is a game-changer in our efforts to achieve lasting peace, development and more resilient and inclusive societies.
The participation and representation of women in political life is a prerequisite for lasting peace in Somalia. The 30 percent quota is a critical first step towards equal representation of women in all walks of life, from business to government, from elections to appointments.
As a female federal state minister noted, women in Somalia make up over 50 percent of the population, and as such, the 30 percent quota is just the beginning. This was echoed by a member of the state’s election implementation team who observed that the parliament is called the People’s House, and as such, it should reflect that half of those people are women.
I would like to share with you the call that I have heard from many Somali leaders, for the international community to maintain our focus, our support and our partnership.
The United Nations mission and country team are committed to ensuring this, with your support.
Through these efforts, I am confident that Somalia will continue to move forward.
I hope to return to see the progress and meet the new Parliament – with a minimum of 30 percent women representatives – in the near future.