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There are no interventions for women who face abuse or assault. Also, since the beginning of the conflict, there has been a dearth of women's input and participation in public life (Security Council).
In Somali, war and civil conflict have resulted in a shrinking of opportunities for women in public life. Women are further burdened with threats of violence and difficulties with meeting their household and care-giving duties. The inadequate and conflicting protections offered by the various Somali legal systems further places women at risk.
Women's role in peace-building
Given the strictures women face in both traditional and post-conflict Somali society, it is difficult to imagine how women could play an important role in peace-building and peace-keeping. However, this is precisely what Somali women and grassroots organizations have done. For example, a coalition of women's groups successfully lobbied for official participation in the March 1998 Conference on National Reconciliation that was convened in Addis Ababa. The women's participation contributed to the establishment of the Transitional National Council, which mandated the inclusion of a woman in each of the delegations from Somalia's 18 regions (Jan 68). Unfortunately, the early promise of this agreement was dashed when the 15 of the 18 clan-based delegations refused to participate.
In between the 13 political conferences that were conducted in an effort to rebuild the Somali political system, women's grassroots organizations participated by supplying humanitarian aid.
This participation included providing shelter and medical care to combatants, often at great personal risk. Many women brought clean drinking water to war-torn communities and restored schools (Jan 68-69).
They also filled in for absent personnel, such as nurses and teachers. Their actions brought a semblance of normalcy in difficult times.
These actions served to mitigate the conflict and promote chances for dialogue.
As stated earlier in the paper, Somali women are considered members of their father's family and clan. Their children, however, were part of their husband's clans. These ties placed Somali women in a unique position to build on their status as daughters, wives and mothers. The cross-clan connections presented Somali women with opportunities to promote inter-clan dialogue.
Towards this, an umbrella organization of 17 non-governmental organizations, many led by women, formed with the express purpose of coordinating peace activities (Jan 68-69).
By 2000, it became apparent that any lasting peace in Somalia would only come with the participation and agreement of Somalia's numerous clans. The Somali National Conference, formally opened in May 2000 in the town of Arta, Djubuti, was composed of clan-based delegations (Jan 68-69). Partly due to their dual clan membership, many women were able to secure positions in the clan delegations. At least 50 women participated in the Arta Conference, and one woman was even appointed Vice Chair of the Charter Drafting Committee.
The resultant Arta agreement thus followed a power-sharing model, wherein major clans were ensured of the right to participate in national decision-making. In return for submitting to the limits of a national agreement, clans were also assured of protections to their political, economic and territorial autonomy. The Transitional National Charter (TNC) was adopted at the Arta Conference, as was the allocation of seats to members of major and minor clans (Jan 69). The establishment of the TNC was hailed as a significant step in the Somali peace process, one that was facilitated by the participation of women.
In addition to furthering the peace process, the female activists were also able to negotiate gains for Somali women. The female delegates campaigned for a 12% quota of women in the Transitional National Assembly (TNA), based on their status as a distinct and separate "clan." (Jan 69). Such a request was reasonable, as the gendered division of labor permeated much of Somali society and therefore bound together many Somali women. After religious leaders and other male delegates raised fierce opposition, the female delegates turned to Djibouti for arbitration. Through the efforts of these female delegates, Somali women were able to secure 25 seats in the TNA (Jan 69). The delegates then divided these 25 seats among the major clans, further placing women in unique positions to build inter-clan alliances.
The emphasis on clan politics further decentralized Somali politics, placing women at greater risk. Organizations such as Save Somali Women and Children (SSWC) were even more important. The SSWC focused on activities oriented towards human rights, peace and development. By sponsoring micro-credit programs for women, the SSWC was able to facilitate meetings and mobilizations between women of different clans. Such meetings were invaluable in diffusing tensions between the clans. Furthermore, the SSWC was able to bring together some 120 women's grassroots organizations in Somalia (UNIFEM).
Since the SSWC, many other grassroots and umbrella organizations banded together to agitate for peace as well as other aspects of women's rights. The National Organization for the Development of Women and Children (NOW), for example, advises the current Somali Transitional National Government regarding the welfare needs of women. In a patriarchal society that sees men as heads of households, NOW focused attention on female-headed households. Another organization, the Women's NGO Consortium (WONCO), provides assistance to poverty-stricken women and the displaced refugees. WONCO also tries to educate people regarding the dangers of infibulation (UNIFEM).
Even with the creation of the TNC and the seats allocated for women, women still faced an uphill battle for recognition and participation. Many clans, including important factions from the capital Mogadishu, refused to even participate in the Arta peace process. For the women of these clans, it was even more important for them to come up with creative forms of negotiation and participation.
This is especially true for women from areas of Somalia where clans relied on a combination of customary laws and strict Shari'a principles to resolve disputes, both of which generally prohibit women from participating in decision-making processes. Also, although the TNC allots seats for women, the Charter does not provide any stipulations for women's participation in clan systems or within regional councils. Instead, religious leaders and male elders are often charged with conducting negotiations for parties in conflict.
Even within such strictures, however, many women have been able to make their influence felt. Groups such as the Coalition of Grassroots Women's Organizations (CGWO) were able to raise their voice, with the help of international organizations. Through their work in building and staffing health clinics and providing potable water, Somali women gained the confidence of their communities. Based on this goodwill and trust, many grassroots women's organizations were also able to challenge strict fundamentalist Shari'a interpretations of Islamic law. Some women, for example, questioned prohibitions against the education of girls, based on alternate interpretations of the Koran (Flanders).
In summary, Somali women have carved out niches to allow for participation in public life. Some of these niches have been created in official political capacities, such as the 25 seats allotted to women in the TNA.
However, in many cases, women needed to devise unconventional methods to exert their influence.
In the case of Somalia, the involvement and representation of women in the peace table resulted in the Arta convention and the TNC, the country's only lasting peace charter. The participation of women also helped the delegates draft a Charter that expressed political commitment to women's rights.
The TNC provided institutional frameworks to begin significant reform.
Even more significant, the fact that women from different regional clans were able to come together as a "sixth clan" highlighted the possibility of inter-clan cooperation. Initially, analysts believed that due to clan politics, it would be impossible to carve out a national country identity for Somalia. However, as the women have shown, it is quite possible to form alliances even across clans, provided that participants share key interests.
However, despite these promising starts, there are still issues with implementing all the provisions of the TNC and generating true reform. While the representation of women in the TNA is a good start, it is in danger of remaining a nominal gesture. Women's grassroots organizations continue to bring attention to the plight of women in times of conflict. Individual women provide linkages between clans and strive to make an impact on policy-making. To ensure that their work is successful, women's grassroots organizations, as well as the representatives in the TNA, need to address important challenges.
First, Somali women's activists must remain vigilant. The allocation for women's seats in the TNA was acclaimed as a landmark in Somali women's rights.
However, there is a danger of losing momentum, and of falling into a complacency regarding women's rights. It is therefore important for women's groups to continue working towards greater gender equity in Somalia.
Second, as the failure of earlier charters has shown, any successful power-sharing schemes need to take into account the existing social and political structures of society. Previous charters failed because they imposed state-based power-sharing schemes in a country that was divided along clan lines. The inclusion of women, who can hold membership in two or more clans, provided important links…[continue]
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