New constitution heralds progress for women’s rights in Somalia
Somalia’s Constituent Assembly last week overwhelmingly agreed a new constitution which recognises the empowerment of women.
It represents a key step in establishing an effective central government by providing a legal framework, based on Islamic law, to govern Somalia.
A new parliament will be formed this week, ending a transitional period that has lasted for nine years.
The constitution states that all Somali citizens shall have equal rights and duties before the law, “regardless of sex, religion, social or economic status, political opinion, clan, disability, occupation, birth or dialect.”
Specifically it prohibits female genital mutilation (FGM), a widespread practice in Somalia.
But in a country where 98 per cent of women interviewed by the World Health Organisation and UNICEF have undergone the most severe form of FGM, this remains a moot point.
Equally importantly, the constitution recognises the representation of women in Somalia’s political process, promising a minimum 30 per cent female representation in the next parliament and in all future government institutions.
Operation 1325 (a network aimed at implementing UN resolution 1325 to involve women in conflict resolution), is optimistic that that the new constitution might represent a light at “the end of the tunnel for Somali women”, despite the country’s appalling record on women’s rights.
It is one of only three states that has neither signed the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women nor resolution 1325.
A female delegate to the Constituent Assembly said “According to this constitution, women will be able to participate in the country’s political process and that is what we appreciate very high.”
However, theory may party company from reality at some point.
In Somalia, parliamentary seats are allocated using a clan-based power sharing system. Malyun Sheikh Haider, head of the Mogadishu-based Centre for Evaluation and Development, said that:
“Somali women are being marginalised in the political process due to discrimination, which places women in a second-class position to men and is a result of the prevalence of a tribal and male-dominant mentality in Somali society.”
As a consequence women are underrepresented in the transitional government.
Somalia must select a new parliament before the transitional government’s mandate expires on 20 August. The parliament will then elect the main members of the executive, including a new president.
Dr Augustine Mahiga, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Somalia, hailed the adoption of the provisional constitution as a “momentous occasion.”
He said it was an “historic achievement as it completes one of the most important milestones towards ending the current transitional period and ushering in a new political future.”
Whether this new political future can be realised in a country marred by a long civil war and with areas still outside government control, remains to be seen.