Women’s participation in the Puntland administration9
When the Puntland administration was established in 1998 five out of 66 seats in the House of Representatives were reserved for women.
And, as in the case of the TNG, the seats were given to women who were hand-picked by men rather than the selected through consultation or voting by women or the wider community. So some women criticised the allocations as tokenism although they were enshrined in the constitution and had some male support. (Faiza A. Warsame 2001)
Like elsewhere in Somalia and Somaliland, in Puntland women seeking political rights and power face opposition from conservatives. To have succeeded in obtaining 7.5 per cent female representation in the administration is therefore a significant step towards greater political equity with men. But according to participatory research conducted in Puntland by the War Torn Societies Project (WSP) in Somalia, ‘the question of women’s participation in the political process in Puntland remains a deeply divisive topic’. In consultations with a broad section of the modern and traditional male leadership WSP found that it is recognised that it is desirable to involve women in the process of governance and that ‘women should play a major role in decision-making’. Yet the research found no broad-based support for the ‘notion that women should be represented in the shir [an organised meeting of elders to discuss matters of agreed importance] or other political forums – whether traditional or modern’.10
The Puntland Administration was the outcome of an indigenous consultation process lead by civic and political leaders from across the north east region which started in February 1998 and culminated in the Constitutional Conference of 15 May to 11 August 1998. Reportedly, the elders (all of them male) had eventually agreed to the allocation of seats for women in the administration after hearing Anab Xasan, frustrated by what she called ‘male power-grabbing and selfishness’, recite a powerful poem. It is said that many men had tears in their eyes. In this translated extract from Anab’s poem ‘we’ refers to women:
Dalka haystaa aan idiin-ka haajirnee Haween waa duul jannaa oo dakana magalo Nin doorka ma dilaan iyo wiilkii ay dhaleen Daban intay kuu dhigaan ruuxna kuma dagaan Dulmi ma qaataan oo xaaraan ma dadabsadaan Ee ragow dabkaad shiddaan baan ku daadanaa…
Xiliga aan joogno ragu waa inuu hubsado Ama dalkii haysta aan idinka haarjirnee Dadaalku markuu habsaamoo waanu hiilnaa Kama harnee nimanka hareertan kataaganahay Heshiiska iyo nabada horay bann utaagannahay Hannaankii dawladnimo heegan baan unnahay Wixii aan hubino haan baad ku aaburtaan Dheeftii aan helilahaa baad hamboobsataan Haween baad-tahaye hoos u foorarso baad dhahdaan Hadaynnaan hubin hawshaan ku aadannahay Heshiiska iyo xeerka aan haatan lagu salaysnayn Raggow waan kaahurudnayee waa inoo hadaba
Keep the land, we emigrate
Women are heavenly folk and rarely commit cruelty and injustice,
They do not massacre heroes and sons they breastfed,
They do not deliberately plot or set up traps for a soul to fall into,
They neither condone exploitation nor indulge in forbidden bread.
But oh men, we succumb to the fires you ignite…
Oh men, why don’t you realise the difficult circumstances that we are now facing?
Or keep the land and we will emigrate.
When the rhythm for rebuilding slows down, we rally and mobilise
For the purpose. We are always beside men, never behind them. We are at the forefront for peace and reconciliation,
We are ready with what it takes to resurrect good government. But you men [ignore] our advice and inspirations,
You suffocate our intellect, so it never sees the daylight,
You grab and swallow all benefits due to us.
If you don’t rethink and vividly acknowledge the role women play,
And institutionalise it in modern and customary laws,
Be warned, we are now awakening after a long sleep and passivity.
(Translated by Faiza A. Warsame 2001)
Women’s participation in the governance of Somaliland
From papers by Shukri Hariir and Zeynab M. Hassan, and interviews with Noreen Michael Mariano.
Just as Somali women were absent from decision-making [in] the public domain in the past, so are they also absent now. Women are not represented in any of the formal and informal institutions of decision-making whether at the village, district, regional and national levels of Somaliland. They are also absent from top economic leadership positions in the private sector. (Amina M. Warsame 2002)
Women have no chance of competing with men while clan remains the main basis for political life in Somaliland. Male candidates are supported by their clans but women are not. (Member of the Women’s Political Forum in Somaliland11)
Shukri Hariir and Zeynab Mohamed Hassan, who have been at the forefront of the campaign for women’s equal political status in Somaliland, describe how the campaign emerged from women’s experiences of organising to put their country back on its feet after the war. They reflect on their experience of helping to bring about peace and reconciliation between warring clans, and the many challenges women face:
In April 1991, when the population began returning from the refugee camps in Ethiopia to their original places of residence, they were distressed at the level of destruction they found in the main towns, caused by large-scale shelling. They found the settlements plundered and the destruction of even piped water supplies and electric power lines, the wholesale looting of furniture, equipment, medicines and appliances from dwellings, offices, hospitals, schools, banks, post offices, shops and factories. Women had to make homes from discarded cardboard boxes and scrap metal when they found their own homes roofless, without doors or windows [men were also involved but partly because women are traditionally responsible for building the family’s shelter and some men were reluctant to use the poor materials available, many left this task to women].
The civil war in Somaliland, at its height between1988 and 1991, weakened political institutions in the country. The unexpected
defeat of Siad Barre’s troops caught the SNM leadership and the communities they represented totally unprepared for the immediate aftermath of war. They had neither the authority to deal with large-scale unrest nor the capacity to cope with the devastation of public institutions and infrastructure. A large influx of returnees overburdened the devastated cities that were without the most basic amenities. There was no running water, 90 per cent of the buildings had been destroyed, there was no communication system, food was in critically short supply, and all public infrastructure (factories, schools, hospitals and government offices) had been ransacked. More than 1 million anti-tank and anti-personnel mines were either littered around or buried below ground.
Life was made more precarious by the general instability… During the civil war, almost all male Somalilanders possessed an automatic rifle, and some had even heavier weapons. The existence of enormous arsenals of heavy weapons and personal arms that now fell into the hands of hundreds of thousands of largely ‘traumatised’ male youth paved the way for lawlessness. Senseless acts of looting and indiscriminate killing terrorised the population, and also disrupted the flow of trade, while the economy was in shambles and the service infrastructure in ruins.
Emergency assistance and recovery – the role played by women’s groups
Many people, especially those who had previously worked in social and welfare roles such as teachers or health workers, found themselves taking a leading role in the relief and reconstruction needed to make towns habitable and safe once more. A large number of these spontaneous activists were women. While some worked in the community as individuals, others got together, usually with women from their clan or sub-clan, to form groups or associations or to revive self-help groups and organisations that they had established in the refugee camps in Ethiopia.12
The leading women’s organisations operating in Hargeisa by 1992 were the Somaliland Women’s Development Association (SOWDA, originally called Alla-Aamin, meaning ‘Faith in Allah’) and the Somaliland Women’s Organisation (SOLWO) established in Hargeisa in 1992. Alla-Aamin had been founded in 1988 by displaced women in Balli Gubadle, an area south of Hargeisa next to the Ethiopian border, and later transferred with the population to the refugee camps in Ethiopia. One of the group’s founding members recalls how Alla – Aamin came about:13
After we were uprooted from our homes by the military regime… nearly every able-bodied man joined the fighters [the SNM]. It was then that a group of women decided to contribute to the struggle. by direct assistance. Every day we saw how the wounded fighters were brought back and laid down under makeshift shelters. There was a shortage of everything that the wounded needed… We couldn’t stand to see the suffering of the wounded so we women organised ourselves into different committees. Some women did the washing for the wounded, others cooked for them, some collected contributions and still other women took the responsibility of awareness raising so that people who did not know about the situation [the destruction of Hargeisa] could get information. The committee responsible for collecting contributions would walk to remote areas in the bush to collect milk from the pastoralists. We even sent women to Mogadishu [over 1,000 km away] … to buy medicines. That is how we started the women’s self-help groups. (Brons & Warsame 2003)
Once it was possible to return to Somaliland, in 1991, Alla-Aamin transferred its head office to Hargeisa where it renamed itself the Somaliland Women’s Development Association (SOWDA). The difficulty of shifting from an informal to a formal institutional setup is expressed in the following account:
We wanted to form our own women’s organisations, but unlike the informal self-help groups, which we formed when we were in the refugee camps, we didn’t know what to do with formal organisations. For instance, what are the different bodies in the organisation supposed to do and how are such organisations run? We went to the men for assistance and asked them to give us directions regarding the structures and legal procedures. Gradually we learned through trial and error. (Ibid)
Inspired by experiences in mobilising for peace in 1991-92 (see Chapter 6), their priority became establishing sustainable peace and stability. Along with other women’s organisations such as SOLWO, SOWDA lobbied the interim government for the establishment of a police force and judiciary. SOWDA promised that women would contribute to a police programme. It kept its promise and when the police force was eventually established in 1992, SOWDA donated 500 police uniforms, bedding and utensils to different police stations.