Judith Gardner


At the time of writing, July 2003, Somalia’s faction leaders, individuals defined as ‘members of civil society’, and the Transitional National Government (TNG) formed at Arta in 2000, continue to struggle in pursuit of a way forward on the future governance of Somalia. They are doing so through the 14th internationally convened Somalia National Reconciliation Process (SNRP). Designed and managed by the Inter-Governmental Agency on Development for the Horn and East Africa (IGAD), with support from the interna­tional community, including the European Union, this process began on 15 October 2002 in Eldoret, Kenya. It was expected to last three months. Almost ten months on the process is still some way from completion with the final phase, the election of 315 parliamentari­ans, a president and prime minister, still to be finalised. Before this can happen agreement needs to be reached on the major remaining issue of contention: whether or not Somalia should become a federal state immediately or after a transition period and public referendum. Conference delegates and most Somali observers are divided over this question. One issue over which there seems to be consensus is the call for an (African) international peace-keeping operation to begin during the post-conference transition phase when disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration will be a priority in the steps to establishing peace and reconciliation inside the country.

More than 100 women, among them supporters of various faction leaders, members of the TNG, professionals from the diaspora and individual grassroots peace activists, tried to take part in the conference. With the conference management de facto in the hands of the faction leaders and the regional powers who support them, many women (and men) who had much to contribute but were perceived as ‘threats’ to various powerful factions were rejected. Of those that remain, 21 are officially registered observers and 34 are official delegates allowed to vote in plenary sessions. A woman has sat on each of the six Reconciliation Committees established as part of the process. Two women are on the Leaders’ Committee consisting of 22 faction leaders and five members of ‘civil society’. The Leaders’ Committee has come to constitute the power within the process, making many decisions without reference to the plenary.

Women are divided both by loyalty to opposing factions and clans and over the question of federation – 26 of the women are taking part as members of faction groups or the TNG. Nevertheless women have been united in pursuing an agenda for women’s representation in whatever form of government is finally created. Aiming for 25 per cent representation women have had to settle for 12 per cent, just a 1 per cent increase on the Arta. UNIFEM and the IGAD Women’s Desk have played a significant support and lobbying role to achieve this outcome, providing women delegates with a Resource Centre and seminars from veteran women’s rights campaigners from Uganda, Sudan and Kenya. At least one woman is standing as a pres­idential candidate alongside more than 40 male candidates.

According to the process agreed by the Leaders’ Committee, the parliamentary deputies will be selected on a clan basis, chosen by the faction leaders, in consultation with traditional clan elders.

Throughout the period of the peace process, and despite the much – publicised Declaration of the Cessation of Hostilities achieved just three weeks into the process, on 27 October 2002, serious armed conflicts have continued to affect parts of Somalia. Promulgated by the very same faction leaders and warlords who signed the Declaration, these violations have included gender-based crimes of sexual violence targeting women and girls.