Peace and security - restoring hope in Somalia/Somaliland

In Somalia and Somaliland women are playing an important role in supporting peacebuilding efforts but their voices are often not heard by policymakers. Lilian Kamau interviews four Somali women working towards peace on their perspectives of security and how women can support each other to ensure inclusion within political processes and peacebuilding initiatives.

Khadra Hassan, Hargeisa

“I became involved in peacebuilding work in Somaliland in 1991. I work for the Barwaaqo Voluntary Organisation (BVO), a member of NAGAAD Women’s Network, which has been involved in training police and raising awareness on issues related to clanism that affect women and youth. Before that I worked in conflict resolution in Togdheer and Hargeisa.

In the conflict in 1998, where fighting broke out between two sub-clans over grazing land, I was proud to be able to mediate between clans and contribute to peace. I also attended the Somaliland 2012 women’s conference, which brought together 40 women involved in peace (known as the G40) from across the Horn of Africa to discuss Somaliland’s peace and security agenda. This was a great achievement for me.

The main issue for women in peacebuilding is being able to participate in political decisions, because we face a range of barriers to contributing. The Upper House of Parliament, the Guurti, is made up of men only which poses a challenge. Women are not allowed to sit in meetings with the Guurti, they are only allowed to give their ideas to the men who then discuss them. This is obviously subject to interpretation and means we don’t have a platform to feed into.

Women are often victims of conflict and insecurity so it is really important that they are consulted before any peacebuilding initiatives are carried out. I would say women in Somaliland have a very strong focus on community rather than themselves as individuals so they are able to bring crucial community perspectives to the table during peacebuilding discussions. However the high illiteracy level among women is also a major issue as this means women do not understand their potential role as peace makers and therefore don’t know how to engage in decision-making and conflict resolution negotiations. Overall there is a real lack of capacity building for women in peacebuilding skills and activities, which we need to address.

There has been progress though – women are playing an increasing role in community policing and continue to form partnerships to work on peacebuilding. In Hargeisa, we have a network where women are organised into 50 homes per neighbourhood. Four women are nominated to represent these 50 homes and bring their issues such as domestic violence and rape to BVO who then follow up on the matter. Similarly, NAGAAD is involved in advocating for peace as well as promoting economic empowerment, human rights and literacy.

Moving forward, the network I am part of SONSAF feels the government needs to recognise the role of women in pushing the Somaliland government and in allocating the women’s quota (in parliament) which is yet to be decided on. The international community also needs to fully commit to promoting women’s development, to date there has been a lot of talk about supporting women with little concrete results on the ground to show for it.”

Zeinab Ismail, Garowe.

“For the last four years I have been a member of the Daryeel Women’s Organisation (DAWO). I have also been working with Mercy Corps in Puntland, training community leaders on peacebuilding and conflict resolution by bringing members of different clans together to talk through issues. We have achieved a lot but I think the fact that Hufan Range, a Women’s organisation under the network ‘We Are Women Activists’ (WAWA) was given international recognition in 1997, this was a major step forward for women in Puntland.

In Puntland I feel that insecurity and instability really affect women. When the men go out to the battlefield, women are left behind to fend for the families. Women are forced to go out to the market even during times of war which predisposes them to security risks. Women also get raped, shot, wounded, looted or even experience domestic violence back home – so it’s crucial we involve women in peacebuilding efforts more.

At DAWO we have trained community leaders in networking, conflict resolution and peacebuilding in four regions of Puntland (Karkaar, Bari, Sanaag and Haylaan). We have trained then in negotiation and human rights, so they could protect women and girls on issues such as rape and domestic violence. DAWO has been successful in including women in village and district committees for peace building and community policing but this still remains a huge challenge. There are very few community leaders working in peacebuilding and conflict resolution, and none of these community leaders are women. In a previously held Community Leaders Network meeting, 45 community leaders attended but refused to sit in the same room as women to discuss issues of peacebuilding. We need to find a way forward on this.

There are also safety and security concerns around being involved in peacebuilding for women. During the 2009 Cagaaran conflict between Galkcaayo and Las Anod regions, women held peaceful demonstrations calling for a ceasefire. One woman was injured during these demonstrations highlighting that women in peacebuilding have real safety and security concerns. Even after the ceasefire the role of women and their contribution in building peace was never recognised. Additionally more boys than girls are armed; when these young people become disempowered they resort to crime which has security impacts on the women in their communities.

The situation for women has changed in the time I’ve been involved in peacebuilding. While there are significant safety and security challenges there are fewer barriers to women’s participation than before and there is an increasing opportunity for women to play a role. In Puntland, there is now a Women’s Peace Network which works with women and young girls to ensure the protection of girls as well tackling gender-based violence.

But the government needs to honour the two principles in place in the Garowe agreements to allocate a quota of 30% women in Parliament. The international community should also put pressure on the Puntland administration to initiate democratisation programmes which would ensure the inclusion of women’s perspectives within democratic processes. We also need to improve the capacity of women themselves to be able to lobby and advocate for change. The international community needs to re-think its funding strategies to focus more on civil society organisations that support women as well as adopting a bottom-up approach where women are consulted before any initiatives start.”

Nuura Faarax, Galkayo

“I work with the organisation called the Horseed Business Women, based in Galkayo, Somalia. We focus on conflict resolution between two clans who have been fighting over resources. We have been able to bring this conflict, which was over water and fodder for livestock, to an end. This was a brilliant achievement – to be able to contribute solidly to the ending of fighting in the area.

For me it is really clear that women are often the main victims and are targets during conflict. Often women are left in the ‘middle’ with nowhere to go when there’s conflict between say her father’s clan and her husband’s clan. There is also an underlying attitude that if men have not been successful in bringing peace, then women cannot succeed either. This makes it difficult for women to engage in peacebuilding due to lack of support. Women also lack the capacity to write funding proposals for projects targeted towards peacebuilding and women, which then means there is a lack of funding for projects.

The main challenge is to expand women’s political participation as well as women’s social and economic empowerment.”

Habiba Jimale, Mogadishu

“I represent the Peace and Human Rights Network in the civil society platform SOSCENSA. As part of my role I have attended numerous meetings and conferences with one notable one being the 1993 Conference on Conflict Resolution in Addis Ababa. I have also been part of a project which trained district level committees on community mobilization and community policing. . In the case of South Central Somalia and Puntland, women are now elected to Ministerial positions which give us a crucial chance to take part in decision making. Culturally, women are considered peaceful and are peace-makers now more than ever and continue to play a role in easing tensions between opposing clans and also carry out peaceful demonstrations to highlight key issues as well as engaging the media to communicate their work and efforts whilst promoting peace. But lack of funding and increasing insecurity continue to pose challenges for women to be able to go out to communities and play an active role in peacebuilding and conflict resolution.

The government needs to give more space for women to take part in decision making, such as appointing women to positions within the justice system, courts, and political processes – as well as increasing access to education for girls in all regions. The international community must reinforce this, putting pressure on the Federal Government to prioritise women’s issues within national planning as well as increasing seed funding to organisations focusing on women’s issues such as gender-based violence and economic empowerment.”

The interviews took place during a summit in Nairobi hosted by the EU Mission to Somalia on the challenges of gender-sensitive programming in Somalia/Somaliland focusing on the place of women in programming around the New Deal thematic areas. The discussions were followed by an event ‘Women Stronger Together’' where the film ‘Through the Fire’ was screened. The film highlights the story of three women and their contribution towards restoring hope in Somalia. 

Find out more about Saferworld's work in Somalia/Somaliland.