It’s not easy being a politician in conflict-torn Somalia.
Men have long dominated national and local leadership roles in the Horn of Africa nation, largely due to deep-rooted traditional biases.
Somalia has established a 30% seat quota for female legislators. But the Somali Women’s Association has accused regional clan presidents of ignoring or rejecting potential candidates, leaving the quota unfilled.
Amino Dhurow knows this struggle all too well. The Mogadishu-based politician is also disabled and says discrimination looms large in Somali society – even though the country’s interim constitution includes measures to protect women seeking government positions.
“I am one of many disabled Somali women and I am an advocate for the rights of disabled people,” Dhurow told DW. “I did my best to stand in the current parliamentary elections. I was hoping to qualify and gain support from other Somali women.”
Fawzia Yusuf H. Adam (centre) broke barriers to become Somalia’s first female foreign minister and deputy prime minister – but it’s a tough road for many
But things didn’t go as planned.
“Unfortunately, that didn’t happen because I was rejected by my clan elders who refused to represent them in parliament,” she explains. “This means that women with disabilities have no political representation and we are not even part of the 30% quota. It is discriminatory and inhuman.
Overcoming Traditional Barriers
Dhurow’s experience is not unique to Somalia, where the clan-dominated system makes it very difficult for women to succeed in politics.
In Somalia’s conservative society, men and women with disabilities are also generally seen as powerless and unsuitable for such positions.
And although they are often the main sources of income, women are generally excluded from the decision-making processes of their communities. For many, these cultural and social barriers mean that their political dreams end before they’ve even had a chance to begin.
Amina Mohamed Abdi was killed in a bomb attack in March while campaigning for re-election
Some are pushing ahead despite odds: Amina Mohamed Abdi – one of the most vocal critics of the Somali government – won her first seat in parliament in 2012 at the age of 24. She repeatedly defied clan elders throughout her political career and repeatedly accused authorities of trying to stop her running.
Abdi was tragically killed on March 23 in a series of bombings claimed by militant group al-Shabaab while campaigning in rural Somalia ahead of long-delayed parliamentary elections.
The participation of women, a “fundamental question”
For young Somali women determined to make a difference, change starts with better representation of women in the executive branch of government.
“Women’s political participation is a fundamental issue,” political science graduate Hamdi Adam told DW. “Our constitution protects the direct engagement of women in public decision-making and upholding equal rights in a positive way that shapes democracy and good governance. Women should be strongly motivated to [pursue] more political participation.
Somali women are fighting for more freedoms in all areas of society
Only four women hold ministerial positions in the current Somali federal government, while 14 women hold seats in the upper house and 51 in the lower house.
Somalia’s Minister for Women and Human Rights Development, Hanifa Mohamed Ibrahim, said these numbers were expected to increase amid ongoing elections in the country.
“Previously we had 67 seats in the lower house and we know another 20 seats in the house have yet to be elected, so we are looking to get our share,” she told DW.
“As women in Somali politics, we need to push our agenda forward and achieve greater political representation in all areas of government.”
Edited by: Benita van Eyssen