August 22, 2012 - Witness: Somali Women Thrown in Shark-Filled Waters- No language can convey the dilemma confronting Somali women attempting to be part and parcel of the creation of a viable government in Somalia. What is a fact is that Somali women have been thrown to swim in shark infested waters.
During this last three months, Somali women have experienced constant humiliations in their attempts to become part of the new parliament. We have a situation where all power has now become invested in male clan elders, who often are clients of dollar-wielding elite men. There is nothing more humiliating for women than pleading with Somali elders to allow more women to be included in the members of parliament that they are assigned to select.
It instantly became apparent to many of us that these elders’ capacity and knowledge were minimal. In fact they seemed helpless. They appeared to be pawns in a chess game that was being played by other powerful actors who dictated who gets an MP seat and who does not.
An example that just illustrates how women were just shoved over is involves the former Minister of Constitution, Mr. Hosh, who himself now occupies a seat that was initially assigned to a Somali woman. This mismanaged process has caused nightmare to all Somali women. Using words like anshax xumo to disqualify women has become the talk of the town. We all know what that means in our culture and no Somali elder will approve such derogatory word to be used against our young women, regardless of the circumstances. Standing long hours at the gates of the TSC office, without seats or place to rest for the elders, and for the weak and sick, was not a pleasant experience either.
The elders appeared dazed and were not well instructed as to what to do during this selection process. They were not using any measures that would guide them to select competent citizens. Many of them actually understood the importance of women’s role, and expressed supporting the inclusion of women. But invisible to everyone were how the government officials were manipulating the outcome of who ends up as an MP in parliament. It was as if the latter had a slogan of “Let Us Chain Women in Their Houses”.
These leaders clearly acted as if the quota allocated to women was for entertainment, nonsensical. They described it as a dangerous ‘myth’.
The benefits of giving women the 30% quota to be involved in the decision-making and in our parliament should be taken very seriously. But from what I have witnessed over the last month, putting this quota on paper looks like putting an interesting idea on the table without the courage to execute it.
This was a missed opportunity for all Somalis, and it was nothing but an experiment that will prolong our suffering. It is also a setback for the Road- map. Humiliating the most powerful and educated Somali women who can truly play a major role in changing the Somali political dynamics is enough to discredit this process and its greedy Somali signatories and government ministers.
I will go so far as to suggest that the international community has impaired Somali women’s political participation, rather than boost it by setting a quota. Maybe voluntary approaches could have been far better than a quota that is only on paper without support.
Quotas won’t work if they only reflect and reinforce the growing power asymmetry between the minority and the majority sub clans and between women and men. Somali women can perform on every measure, including politics, finance and management. Anyone who visits Somalia can find countless example of women performing at the highest levels in the social and economic spheres.
Alas, the male-dominated Somali culture allows the so called educated male elite to discriminate women. They refuse women to occupy any of the top ministerial positions. Those narrowly cultured men are at the heart of what went wrong for the last 22 years.
No nation in the world has lost almost thirty thousand children under the age of five in less than one year from starvation. This machismo fuels corruption and distrust, paralyzing the possibilities of this country rising from the ashes of the civil war and feeding its starving.
Somali women, who if given the chance would have added to the creation of a just society, have been thrown into an ocean filled with sharks and we know that those who are occupying or who sold the positions allocated for women are not waiting for their safe arrival at the ocean shore.
by Hamdi Abdulle, Mogadishu, Somalia
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