Today from Hiiraan Online:  _
Ads By Google
A Call for Sisterhood: A Paradigm Shift in Somali Political Leadership

The world is wasting a precious resource today.  Tens of thousands of talented women stand ready to use their professional expertise in public life; at the same time, they are dramatically underrepresented in positions of leadership around the world.” [1]

—Madeleine K. Albright

Chairman, NDI Board of Directors


Zainab Hassan
Saturday, August 18, 2012


In the recent months, there has been a lot of uproar about The Garowe II Principles and subsequent Protocols establishing the composition of the Somali National Constituent Assembly and the Somali New Federal Parliament adopted in June, 2012 that sets aside a minimum of 30 percent of parliamentarian seats for women along the 4.5 clan formula[2]. This quota for women angered some men, especially those vying for parliamentary seats and some of the Traditional Elders who were assigned to select members of Somalia’s next parliament. One wouldn’t expect sexists and those who have a vested interest in the number of parliamentarian seats available for their clan/sub-clan to embrace the 30% quota set aside for women. However, since the Traditional Elders (TEs) were supposed to represent the whole community, not just for the males, it’s their inherent responsibility to be the stewards of the well-being of the community and to embetter the country and people. The TEs should be basing their judgments on the quality of the hopeful parliamentarians’ leadership, credentials, work experience and fortitude that each hopeful parliamentarian brings to the table rather than their gender identity. In addition, it is disheartening to learn that our TEs as fathers, real or perceived, favor more their sons than their daughters, even though we know that fathers in our community benefit more from their daughters than their sons in terms of care giving. Sadly, some men and women attribute the subjugation and denial of leadership positions for women to Islam, though our religion clearly specifies equal rights and entitlements to both women and men. In general, no society can thrive by leaving behind the majority of its members, and the Somali society is not an exception.


Ads By Google
This article argues that equality-based
political participations and representation of Somali women is a matter of inalienable and inviolable civil, human and religious rights. It promotes a call to action for all civic-minded Somalis (men and women) on these fundamental rights, and the importance of the participation of Somali women in leadership positions. Finally, it provides recommendations on how we can close our society’s leadership gaps, and shows the new Women Parliamentarians and their allies how they can leverage their power to shift the paradigms for the upcoming selection of the next Somali President and the Speaker of the Parliament.

Political participation of women: Civil, human and religious rights

"We declare our right on this earth...to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society, on this earth, in this day, which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary."

Malcolm X.


Somali women have been the backbone of our society and the nucleus of Somalia’s tribal networks of interwoven webs of clans threaded together through enter-marriages - making Somali women operationally a clan of their own and a tribe for all. Ironically, this matrilineal kinship that brings together people from different clans and geographic regions have also became a liability on our women as their identity, loyalty and representations to their genealogical clan vs. that of her husband and offsprings is often being contested and questioned. In reality, the status of Somali women’s clan identity does not change regardless of who they marry, but what they have demonstrated and appears to be perceived as a liability (at least by some misguided men), is that our women value far more in all things tangible for our families, communities, and the nation’s interests and needs than the superficial views and self-interests of some of their male counterparts could allow. Consequently, and because the Somali society is considered to be patrilineal and patriarchal, Somali women have suffered deep-seated patterns of gender inequality, inequity, and injustice.

Even though Somali women have played significant roles in the struggle for Somalia’s independence and for the nationalist cause, since independence they were denied equal access to leadership positions and political arenas where executive, legislative, or administrative decisions were made and implemented.3 During the civil war, the role of Somali women has dramatically changed as they become the primary caregivers of the family taking the obligation to become both homemakers and breadwinners. It is estimated that 80 percent households in Somalia were dependent on women’s income for the family’s livelihood.4  in the last two decades, many Somali women have developed, managed, and lead significant Non-governmental organizations providing social services (education, healthcare, basic needs etc.), community development, advocacy, community organizing, peace-building and reconciliation. In addition, women in the diaspora send remittances to families and relatives back in Somalia or those who are refugees in neighboring countries or elsewhere more than Somali men. While in older generations, more men were educated than women, that trend has changed among the subsequent generations.

Somali women played a crucial part in peace building and reconciliation processes. Since Somali women declared themselves as “the six clan,” they were in a neutral position to persuade and challenge the men to think beyond clan enclaves.5 Their determination and mobilization compelled men to come together, negotiate when they stalled in arguments, and reach consensus.6 Yet, the marginalization of women is a civil and human rights and social justice issues that require collective effort for redress.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights sets international standards that all people and all nations must strive for freedom, equality and participation and representation of citizens in political processes. Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights clearly outlines that (1) Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives; (2) Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country; and (3) The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.7

Many countries around the world have adopted policies based on “Affirmative Action” or by way of quota system to promote inclusiveness, civil and human rights and social justice. The purpose of these affirmative action laws is to end institutionalized discrimination/marginalization practices, uplift the economic standards of underserved communities, and increase the political participation of underrepresented groups. The United States Congress passed Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 That “prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin” 8 for historically marginalized groups. In 1967, late President Lyndon Johnson expanded the Executive Order to include Affirmative Action requirement to benefit women.9

In 1990s, due to civil society advocacy and growing awareness of women’s rights, the United Nations Economic and Social Council recommended a minimum quota of 30% for female representation in decision-making bodies.10 The 1995 U.N. Beijing Conference on Women provided further momentum for advancing quota policies by encouraging governments to “ensure equal representation of women at all decision-making levels in national and international institutions.”11


Research demonstrates that by designating particular political seats for women through regulation, the quota system has been the most successful venue in increasing female leadership to a particular target level. As such, quotas for women have been part of the political priorities of many countries around the world that successfully implemented either voluntary or mandatory quota in their legal systems and political party platforms. While government legislations are based on mandatory quotas through various election regulation laws, usually political parties adopt voluntary quotas.12


Many post conflict African countries have introduced quotas systems as a result of pressure from international donors or regional powers. In 2008, Rwanda experienced a horrific genocidal civil war that left 800,000 people dead.13 In 2003, Rwanda adopted a quota law setting aside 30% of all parliament and cabinet seats for women. Currently, Rwanda’s parliament is rankings number one in the world where women hold the majority of seats at 56 percent including speaker of parliament. In addition, Rwanda women claim 1/3 of all cabinet positions including Foreign Minister, Education Minister, and plum jobs such as Supreme Court Chief, and Police Commissioner General ,the head of the tax authority and the auditor general.14 

Women’s leadership is not only civil and human rights issue, but also religious rights clearly prescribed in our religion – Islam. Contrary to the views of some, Islam promotes women leadership and nothing within its tradition and laws legitimize discrimination against women. As Professor Abdulwahid Qalinle, accomplished Islamic Scholar and Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Minnesota Law School, succinctly reflects:

“During the lifetime of Prophet Mohamed (PBUH), there were no restrictions in women's full participation in the economic, political and social spheres of their society. For example, Khadija, the Prophet's first wife was one of the most important merchants of the time, and the Prophet himself was her employee. She was a close advisor and regularly counseled him to withstand the challenges he faced from his tribe. Ayisha, the Prophet's youngest wife was one of his most important advisers and consultants. He even directed Muslims to learn one half of the religion from her. In the early Islamic history women not only participated in various aspects of their society's public sphere, they also had the right to be elected to political offices. For example, Omar the second Khalif appointed a woman to oversee the affairs of the marketplace. The women also participated in wars and fought in the battles.”

Islam affords and mandates for women the right to work, to own property and to have wealth. Women can seek employment and careers in medicine, teaching, political, civil, and justice professions. These rights remain the same before and after marriage. Regarding the right to work, Chapter 4 Verse 32 of the Quran states:

“And in nowise covet those things in which Allah hath bestowed His gifts more freely on some of you than on others: to men is allotted what they earn, and to women what they earn: But ask Allah of his bounty. For Allah hath full knowledge of all things’.

Islam also grants equality to men and women in spiritual status. Chapter 33 Verse 35 of the Quran states:

 For Muslim men and women- For believing men and women. For devoted men and women, for true men and women, for men and women who are patient and constant, for men and women who humble themselves, for men and women who give in charity, for men and women who fast (and deny themselves), for men and women who guard their chastity, and for men and women who engage much in Allah praise- for them has Allah prepared forgiveness and great reward. 15

Advancements for Somali women’s equal rights to our leadership ranks and in our decision-making institutions are sound societal ideals that are consistent with the fundamentals of societal values (religion and customs) as well as international standards for human rights and dignity. Somali women have demonstrated tremendous strength, resilience, and commitment as the network weaver that holds the fabric of our society together. Over the years, they have dedicated their efforts to tackle the problems facing our people and country that require serious leadership capable of envisioning free and united Somalia based on peace, justice and equality.  For Somalia and for our women, Somalia needs to follow the footsteps of Rwanda, because for a modern state to function, it is critical that the civil, human and religious rights of all within the society are upheld and protected.


Call to Action

Leadership is people taking the initiative, carrying things through, having ideas and the imagination to get something started, and exhibiting particular skills in different areas.                                       – Charlotte Bunch

The Somali society can never compensate the suffering, injustices, and discrimination committed against Somali women. However, their efforts and good performance have to be acknowledged and special efforts have to be made to ensure equal opportunity for all. Public policies are enacted to solve social problems. Somali women’s quest for political participation has been a longstanding struggle that predates Somali independence. Even in this era, Somali women leadership participation still lags behind. According to the Garowe II Principles, women were supposed to comprise 30 percent of the 825 National Constituency Assemblies (NCA).16 However, the Traditional Elders didn’t comply with that Principle: only 24 percent of the NCA members were women.17

A growing body of research demonstrates that “when women are empowered as political leaders, coun­tries experience higher standards of living, and positive developments can be seen in education, infrastructure and health.”18,19 In addition, many studies illustrate that the political participation of women results in concrete gains for “democratic governance, including greater responsiveness to citizen needs20 , increased cooperation across party and ethnic lines,21 and more sustainable peace.22 It is therefore essential that the 30% quota law for Somali women representation is upheld and its spirit protected. Granted that 30% of the parliamentarians will be women, it could be predicted that there will be a shift from the traditional quagmire of Somali male clan politic. Somali women have demonstrated their loyalty to the people and nation rather than to the clan. Somali woman will not regain their rights unless a collective and concerted struggle and efforts based on shared consciousness of oppression is waged. That struggle must be waged outside the clan structure which may be a contributing factor to the marginalization of woman.


If there is no struggle, there is no progress. . . . Power concedes nothing without a struggle.  It never did and it never will.

– Frederick Douglass


It is critical to note here that there are no quick fixes to effectively address the issues regarding the leadership gap. It will take the efforts of so many Somali men and women who believe the promotion of civil, human and religious rights as well as social and gender equity. Some general recommendations for the new leadership that could enhance women’s institutional and political leadership include:


1.      Ensure that the 30% women’s quotas for parliamentarian seats are protected and to have it apply to all decision-making levels in local, national and international institutions. Somalia is a signatory of the international human rights law that guarantees women’s right.


2.      Support the development and implementation of public education and outreach campaigns that raise the consciousness of the public on women leadership, human, civil, and religious rights and social justice. These programs can achieve a shift in social change away from the condescending traditional customs and attitudes. Religious leaders and male advocates for civil and human rights have to promote these programs by developing audiovisual materials and utilizing traditional and social media.


3.      Provide targeted leadership capacity building support to Somali women to ensure women’s success in the political arena. It could include trainings such as public speaking, community organizing cutting the issues, how to run a campaign, fundraising and communications strategy development for women who exhibit positive leadership qualities and criteria.


4.      Prioritize and introduce structures and processes designed to advance women political and civic leadership at all levels including developing a national woman's organization and political parties. As a start, organizing annual general conferences on policy discussions, and providing forums to discuss women’s leadership perspectives and innovative approaches to governance should be planned. The speakers could include progressive women’s rights activists, especially Rwanda.  


  1. Adopt laws that improve the rights of Somali woman and livelihood of families. These laws could bring about systemic changes relating to the modification of prevailing social, political, and economic structures, and


  1. Promote cross-clan coalition building to unite Somalis and foster greater collaboration among the Somali  politicians, high level administrators and advocates both men and women. Support efforts to bring diverse local community members together who are actively involved in issues relating to women, children and youth development that could provide preferred patterns of connectivity, innovation and sustainable development.


Sisterhood: Cohesive New Women Parliamentarians

Hope and vision cause us to revalue the world, reconceiving our situations so that was once even beyond hope is now with in the realm of reality.

Martin Krieger


As women legislators, you are a representative sample of the population that is bestowed upon developing complex systems and policies and the selection of our leadership. Your primary responsibility is first and foremost selecting the President and Speaker of the Parliament that will lead our ruined country and collapsed society, as well as legislating in the law of the land. Many of the breakthrough models in addressing citizen apathy or solving political conflicts around issues are based on a common ground multi-stakeholder and team leadership approach. You can only achieve this if you combine your forces and leverage your votes and efforts as a whole. The clan system that has treated you as outsiders and denounced your leadership will not serve you, your children, community and the nation well. As you are holding 30% of the votes to elect the next President and Speaker of the Parliament, you hold a tremendous power and influence on who should or would be the next leaders.


In your selection process, I hope you will look beyond the criterion set forth for the position of the President of the Federal Republic of Somalia and membership for the Federal Parliament, especially for the Speaker of the Parliament by the new adopted Federal Republic of Somalia Constitution. It is crucial that you give priorities to candidates that have the capacity to do the work and move our country forward. When considering the positions of the President, Speaker of Parliament and his deputies look among the persons who are most intelligent, honest, firm, and good standing in the society. They should be well educated and are capable of drafting legislative, executive processes and policy agendas. The candidates should be open-minded and possess superb leadership skills, ability to manage, build and lead teams, and ability to facilitate constructive dialogue and action on critical issues.  It is imperative that they have good oral and written communication skills as well as excellent interpersonal and networking skills. Lastly, the President and Speaker should be charismatic and have the ability to lead, inspire and motivate legislators, government administrator and the Somali public.

In the presidential selection process, you have the opportunity to choose a viable candidate that is capable of lifting our people and country from the graveyard, and lead us to prosperity. Such a leader needs to look past trends and present situations to find out viable solutions for the future in a compelling vision, which forces him/her to understand the magnitude of the public problem. Somalia needs someone with practical experience in leading people and institutions and in touch with the situation and current realties on the ground that can ‘walk the talk’. Someone with tireless energy and can reinvigorate the aspirations, hopes and dreams of the civil servants and the Somali people.

I would advise you to interview the top five candidates for this position and inquire their leadership style, their in-depth knowledge about the root causes of the Somali problem socially, politically, and economically, what their vision and work plan is, where they stand on the issues of women leadership and what they have in store for women leaders (cabinet ministers, vice-ministers, political appointments, high administration positions etc.).

On the cusp of new era of nation building, I urge you to rise above the political clansmanship ideology and practice. If you stand as the “six clan,” and collaborate with likeminded individuals, you will have more power and opportunity in the selection process. I believe it takes an extraordinary people to step up to these challenges and to succeed. I hope you find an incentive to leave a positive legacy behind- a legacy of unity among you, hard work, peace building and reconciliation. Your leadership will need to muster the willpower and strength to remain focused, and the genuine compromise, commitment, and indeed sacrifice needed to move our people and country. Somalia is in ruins and desperately needs a leadership that would evaluate social and national problems, negotiate and protect the interest of Somalia in the international arena, and lead to a positive direction to rebuild the country stabilize the society, and promote sustainable development.
Zainab Hassan
[email protected]


[1] Markham, S. Strengthening women in parliament. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Hansard Society, National Democratic Institute Board of Directors, 23 May, 2012. Accessed at http://www.ndi.org/files/Markham-Oxford-Journal-052312.pdf on August 10, 2012.

[2] The Garowe II Principles. Somali Roadmap Signatories, 2012 Protocol Establishing the Technical Selection Committee, Adopted June 22, 2012. Accessed at http://unpos.unmissions.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=S4IVZB7V9YA%3d&tabid=9705&language=en-US on August 9, 2012.

3 Ladan Affi. (2005).Putting the Cart Before the Horse: Contested Nationalism and the Crisis of the Nation-State in Somalia. Edited by Abdi M. Kusow. The Red Sea Press, Inc., 91-116.

4 Yasmeen Maxamuud. Somali Women: Agents of Change, The untapped pedigree of Somali women’s political participation, 15 November, 2011. Accessed at http://wardheernews.com/Articles_2011/Nov/Somali%20Women_agents_change_yasmeen.pdf on August 10, 2012.

5 Rehn, E. & J Sirleaf, E. (2002). Women, war, peace: the Independent Experts’ assessment on the impact of armed conflict on women and women’s role in peace-building. United Nations Development Fund for Women, UNIFEM ; United Nations Population Fund, UNPF. 

6 Ibid.

7 University of Minnesota Human Rights Resource Center. (n.d.). Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

8 The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Retrieved from http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/statutes/titlevii.cfm on August 11. 2012.

9 Nagel, T. (1992). Value & Public Policy, Under the general editorship of Robert J. Forgelin, Dartmouth College, Orlando, Fl. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 378-383.

10Fridell,  M. (2009). Consolidated Response on Gender Quotas in African Countries. Accessed at http://aceproject.org/electoral-advice/archive/questions/replies/165671188 on August 11, 2012. 

11 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action adopted by the Fourth World Conference on Women: Action for Equality, Development and Peace, 15 September 1995, Available at: http://www1.umn.edu/humanrts/instree/e5dplw.htm 

12 Fridell,  M. (2009). Consolidated Response on Gender Quotas in African Countries.  Accessed at http://aceproject.org/electoral-advice/archive/questions/replies/165671188 on August 11, 2012.

13 Ghosh, p.  Rwanda: The Only Government in the World Dominated by Women, 3 January, 2012. Accessed at http://www.ibtimes.com/articles/275793/20120103/rwanda-women-parliament-economy-africa-genocide-angola.htm on August 15, 2012.

14 Ibid

15Abdulwahid Qalinle, Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Minnesota Law School and Islamic scholar. Position of Women in Islam, Contributed by e-mail on August 11, 2012.

16The Garowe II Principles, Somali Roadmap Signatories, 2012 Protocol Establishing the Technical Selection Committee, Adopted June 22, 2012. Accessed at http://unpos.unmissions.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=S4IVZB7V9YA%3d&tabid=9705&language=en-US on August 9, 2012.

17 Shukria Dini. Clan leaders: Major Obstacle to Somali women’s Political Participation, 3 August, 2012. Accessed at http://operation1325.se/en/blogg/clan-leaders-major-obstacle-to-somali-women-s-political-participation on August 9, 2012.

18 Markham, S.  Strengthening women in parliament. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Hansard Society, National Democratic Institute Reports , 23 May, 2012. Accessed at http://www.ndi.org/files/Markham-Oxford-Journal-052312.pdf on August 10, 2012.

19Beaman, L., Duflo, E., Pande, R. and Topalova, P. (2007) ‘Women Politicians, Gender Bias,

and Policy-making in Rural India’, Background Paper for UNICEF’s The State of the

World‘s Children Report, 2007, 11. 15–16. Accessed at http://www.unicef.org/french/

sowc07/docs/beaman_duflo_pande_topalova.pdf on August 10, 2012.

20Cammisa, A. and Reingold, B. (2004) ‘Women in State Legislatures and State Legislative

Research: Beyond Sameness and Difference’, State Politics and Policy Quarterly, 4,


21C.S. Rosenthal, “Gender Styles in Legislative Committees” Women & Poli­tics Vol. 21, No. 2 (2001): 21-46, http://dx.doi.org/10.1300/J014v21n02_02.

22 Chinkin, C. (2003) ‘Peace Agreements as a Means for Promoting Gender Equality and Ensuring the Participation of Women’, United Nations, Division for the Advancement of Women.  

Click here