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Breaking the Glass Ceiling in Somaliland

By: Ubah Ali

Somaliland, a de facto sovereign state in the Horn of Africa, has maintained a long-lasting peace through its democratic elections. Somaliland demonstrated all the characteristics of a nation-state for the last three decades. However, it still lacks international recognition. This autonomous region manifested the principles of democracy, security, state-building to show the international community and regional actors why it deserves to be a sovereign state from the Federal Republic of Somalia. Although Somaliland has a strong scene in the international community, there is an urgent need to restructure its domestic politics. The absence of women in Somaliland’s higher political positions, STEM, academia, health, and other sectors demonstrate the normalized gender inequality which is embedded in the country’s patriarchal system.

Women in Somaliland played a pivotal role in strengthening the implementation of long-lasting peace and state-building. However, their work and efforts continue to be overshadowed by male-dominated political clannism and tribalism. For example, during the civil war, women became the breadwinners of their families and of various professional fields such as nursing and thus challenged the traditional understanding of women’s role. Nevertheless, women were not invited to the tribal negotiating table. And even today, most of the women continue to do low-income jobs to provide for their families but face endless difficulties to join higher positions. When Somaliland declared its sovereignty in 1991 from Somalia, all the signatories were men who represented their traditional tribes and political clans. Thus, from the start of Somaliland, women were ignored to be a part of the historical political document, which was supposed to show the unity and the diversity of Somaliland’s community. Therefore, since the establishment of Somaliland’s independence, women faced ongoing barriers to being a part of the policy-making process. Not only that but women have also been politically tokenized by political elite parties dominated by men to show the appearance of gender equality and gender-inclusive politics.

Since 2010 women have been trying to show their visibility in the political scene through elections. But their dreams continue to be doomed by the traditional structure of the society, rising tribalism propaganda during the election periods, lack of access to financial support to mention a few. For instance, when Somaliland held its parliamentary election in 2005, only one woman managed to get a seat out of the 82 seats. The absence of women in the parliament hindered any gender-inclusive policies to be passed or implemented. Therefore, the lack of inclusive representation in Somaliland’s legislative branch paralyzed the approval of several bills that favored women’s rights including the criminalization of FGM, implementation of the anti-Rape bill, and more. Additionally, after 15 years Somaliland held its first parliamentary election since 2005, many women were eager to change the male-dominated policy-making platform. However, the previous parliament failed to approve the proposed gender quota. Members of the Parliament who debated the gender quota were men and many of them did not understand the underlying traditional challenges that women go through to make it to the top government positions. 

Despite the failure of the gender quota, 28 women candidates ran for the parliamentary and local seats compared to the 770 men candidates who contested. Women candidates were economically disadvantaged and the majority of them did not receive support from their clan. Multiple women had higher levels of educational qualifications, experiences, and political competence to lead, but the clannism nature of Somaliland’s politics did not allow any women to join the parliamentary election. Although the majority of the voters were women and youth, the vast majority of women remained to cast their votes to their male political figures who represented their tribes. Hence, as long as tribal visibility and representation of ideologies are playing key factors in Somaliland’s politics, women’s voices will be limited in the political system.  

Additionally, women have limited spaces in the executive branch as clan membership plays a vital role when the council of ministers is appointed. For example, currently, 23 ministries are functioning in Somaliland, and only one woman is in this council. Therefore, women continue to face ongoing discrimination to join the political discourse as the tribal identity card overrides their qualifications. Therefore, there is an urgent need to include women’s voices in the political system and power-sharing formula. Women fought hard for this country, and they deserve to be a part of the decision-making process since their constitution gave them the inalienable rights to exercise their citizenship. Somaliland should restructure the tribal democratic system that favors male politicians that continues to foster patriarchal politics.

The newly elected parliament and the president of Somaliland should put more effort into advocating for the need of promoting women’s voices in the policy-making phase. As women and girls continue to be the most vulnerable groups in society. Not only that, but women have also shown and proven their leadership capabilities both in the civil society and business sectors. Thus, including more women in the political leadership sector of Somaliland will strengthen the principles of democracy and positive peace.  

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ubah Ali is a social activist form Somaliland. Ali did her undergraduate degree from the American University of Beirut (political science and international law). Now, Ali is doing her master’s degree at the University of Stirling (international conflict and Cooperation).

Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints of the Somaliland Chronicle, and its staff. 

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Notice: This article by Somaliland Chronicle is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. Under this license, all reprints and non-commercial distribution of this work are permitted.

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