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Somaliland Politics – Where are the Women?

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Lack of women politicians is not only hurting Somaliland’s economy and society, it is also damaging Somaliland’s recognition efforts abroad. Somaliland women are the backbone of the nation; they are often more educated and vote at a higher rate than men. Yet, their path to politics and decision making has been a rocky one.

On January 18 2022, Gavin Williamson, a member of the British Parliament, organized a debate where about 24 British MPs gathered to discuss Somaliland’s recognition. Williamson praised Somaliland on the progress it has made over the past 30 years apropos of education, health, and development. He emphasized his admiration for Edna Adan, “one of the most remarkable women [he has] had the pleasure of meeting.” He described Hargeisa University, where majority of the students are girls and women, as “the sort of example that we want to set around the world, ensuring that young women and girls are able to thrive and seize all the opportunities that should be available for them, whether in Somaliland or elsewhere on the global stage.” However, Kerry McCarthy, another MP, mentioned that what was “slightly disappointing about the most recent election is that… a lot of progress still needs to be made on female representation. There was one woman MP, but now there are zero, out of 82 elected MPs.”

Somalilanders exercise their power by freely voting, so at first glance one can blame women themselves for their lack of representation. While there is a degree of truth to this, it is a simplistic interpretation of the matter. Somaliland’s democratic process begins after the candidates are selected, a process that both historically and presently stops women in their tracks. Not only has that prevented women from even entering the ballot, it has also led to a Somaliland that is almost exclusively governed by men. To move forward, both the candidate issue and men’s de facto political domination must be overcome. 

In the 2005 house of representative election, only two of the 82 people elected were women, In the house of elders, which were originally chosen by the clans, all 82 seats were held by men. One woman inherited after her husband passed away, but she resigned in 2012. In the 2021 elections, no woman was elected to the house of representatives. In the 2012  local council elections, women won 10 out of the 375 seats. All the 25 seats in the Hargeisa local council were held by men. According to the Somaliland National Electoral Commission, 28 out of 798 (3.5%) candidates were women in 2021 municipal and parliamentary elections. Under Article 22, “every citizen shall have the right to participate in the political, economic, social and cultural affairs in accordance with the laws and the Constitution.” How is every citizen equal if more than 96% of the SELECTED  running candidates are men? How can there be a fair election if Somaliland elders have patriarchal ideologies that discriminate against female candidates?

Amina-Bahja Ekman, Michael Walls, Marie-Luise Schueller ‘s Political Settlement in Somaliland: A gendered Perspective” sheds lights on “the influence of the gender ideologies held by the Somaliland political elite and wider society on the interpretation of women’s needs and interests, which leads to women’s exclusion from existing political agendas and policies.” 

The clan based selection does not “only discriminate [against] women in the election process, but also disfavors them in the appointment or nomination of political positions and public offices..This could be inferred from the fact that there is only one woman out of 40 cabinet members in 2007” (Abdi 2007, 15). 

Almost no women have a track record or experience in government, in part due to Somaliland starting by choosing all men for elders and not choosing women to ministries. Leaves those running playing from behind. Women’s absence from the government is not a woman’s issue or a man’s issue. It is a societal issue. It is a Somaliland issue. We all need to work together to elevate women’s presence in politics because after all, Somaliland’s prosperity and success depends on both women and men. Somaliland’s democracy cannot sustain itself if half of its population is excluded from politics? 

We need to start from scratch in getting men and women to view women as viable candidates.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Originally from Somaliland, Fahima Abdi Ali is currently pursuing a master’s in International Business and Global Governance at Tufts University, She completed a bachelor’s degree (Sociology) at Columbia University in the city of New York. She founded Hiil Movement, an initiative whose mission is to advance and broaden opportunities available to Somaliland Women by integrating women into Somaliland’s political fabric. 

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

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