By Dr. Siham Rayale
On 4 August 2015 we were given an extraordinary opportunity to speak to a crowd of hundreds of youth, artists, authors and activities from Hargeisa at the Hargeysa International Book Fair. We launched the report ‘Somali Solutions: Creating conditions for a gender-just peace’ with Annab Omer Eleye and Nafisa Yusuf from NAGAAD. I went through the report addresses focusing on what is rarely talked about when it comes to women, peace and security in Somalia/Somaliland. Namely, how do we achieve gender-just peace? The answer: address gender inequality in both obvious and less obvious ways. Issues like violence, political participation and engaging young men and male elders need to be dealt with by governments, civil society and ordinary Somali’s to change societies attitudes on gender (in) equality.
Violence, Political Participation and Men
The conundrum that Somali societies face today is that while peace as an end to conflict is ongoing or achieved in some parts, that does not mean that all members of society are benefitting from the peace. Violence exists, for example, in the form of domestic abuse, property theft, and FGC/M. Some of these are legacies of conflict while others existed prior to the outbreak of civil war or are entirely new problems.
It is said that the Somali culture already has provisions in place that prevents violence against women from recurring – what the report identifies is that this is not enough anymore. A lot has already changed for Somali societies, we live in more urban areas, and as participants in the interviews kept saying – we are more disconnected from one another as Somalis than ever before. Interviews with women from IDP camps stated, they felt they were disposable because they were foreigners to the community and in truth living at its margins. Added to this includes poor housing infrastructure and a lack of security which makes them particularly vulnerable. So when rape happens in an IDP camp – it’s easily ignored. By incorporating new perspectives on what it means to be a community beyond your clan affiliation is one way of promote security and reducing violence against women. As well as making public spaces safer, and strengthening laws to bring perpetrators to justice, women suggested neighbours in camps should get to know one another and establish a collective responsibility for the wellbeing of all its residents.
Politics is a good topic because it shows us who has power, for how long they’ve held onto power and what they do with that power. The report highlights that power is not just in the guurti or parliament – it’s also in local committees where conflict resolution or participatory governance can happen. The local community is a powerful space because it’s where attitudes can change about issues that seem small in comparisons to the country’s larger problems but are actually significant for changing the way men and women view leadership and decision-making.
It was also during discussions about politics and power with participants that the importance of civic education arose. The idea is: how can we as women fight for justice if we don’t know who is responsible and accountable? As well raising awareness about issues of representation and access to services it is especially important to increase women’s representation in politics. The gender quota remains unfulfilled in Somalia and Somaliland and the implementation of a quota does not mean that there will be more women-centric policies but it goes a long way to addressing issues of representation to combat the influence of clan which we know reinforces gender inequality.
This was also an issue raised by young men who felt that it was not easy to fulfill the expectations of male clan elders or their families. They asked us ‘why is a man’s mental health not taken into consideration when we talk about gender issues?’ As a consequence, there was a sense that young men felt like they were in competition with young women.
The festival was the perfect place to launch this report mainly because of the diversity of the audience. But tensions existed, especially when both Annab and Nafisa pointed to a lack of enthusiasm for addressing the issues raised during the panel discussion. Annab reminded us that we are a product of our mothers so empowering women meant empowering their mothers, sisters, and daughters. The idea that gender inequality is an imperceptible issue can be debunked if we look inside our own homes.
But among the most lively comments that arose was a young woman who both criticized the way the discussion on gender inequality perhaps unfairly targets men and labels them as merely perpetrators of violence, as well as highlighting that gender inequality is a real issue when many government institutions are less likely to employ women in senior positions as opposed to employing them as administrators.
She is the picture of a new generation of Somali women. These young women are less inclined to accept the inequalities they witness or experience but more importantly are speaking up about it. The conversation and debate is ongoing and as Nafisa Yusuf so eloquently stated, these are issues that will continue to be publicly addressed no matter the lack of enthusiasm they may elicit. Change will not always be popularly endorsed but it seems inevitable that change in terms of gender relations will be a staple for transforming Somali societies led by these young Somali women and men.
Dr. Siham Rayale (@srayale) researches on issues relating to post-conflict reconstruction, and women, peace and security. She specializes in gender research on the Horn.
Read the full report:
More pictures from the event: