Somali women’s rights activists and politicians want a 30% quota for female lawmakers to be enshrined in law. Ahead of upcoming elections, female candidates and campaigners are apprehensive.
Amina Mohamed Abdi, one of the Somali government’s most vocal critics, was 24 when she first ran for parliament in 2012. She won, becoming one of the few women in Somalia’s government. This year, now aged 32, she is running for a third term in postponed elections scheduled for February 8.
But it has not been easy for her in the conflict-ridden country, where men dominate politics. Usually, it is conservative clan elders who decide who will get into parliament. Few think that women should go into politics. “I was asked: ‘You want to be a prostitute? How can a woman represent a clan?'” she told Reuters. “I insisted and said a clan is not composed only of men.”
This year, she is running against five men for the same seat. It is one of 329 seats in the lower and upper houses, only 24% of which are occupied by women.
Prime ministerial support
In mid-January, Somali Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble announced that a third of parliamentary seats should be reserved for female lawmakers.
Women’s rights activists have been calling for this for some time. In July 2020, the lower house of parliament even approved a bill that would allow for this, but it has yet to be passed by the upper house and signed into law by the president.
Deqa Abdiqasim Salad, the founder and CEO of the Hear Woman Foundation, was not impressed by the prime minister’s announcement. “Our mistake was not to push for the 30% quota to be written into the constitution,” she told DW. “If we had, the minimum quota would be policy. Policies cannot be broken easily. Right now, it is just a recommendation.”
She added that she was worried that women would not even manage to win more seats than last time. “We occupy 24% right now, but I believe that those could be lost this year.”
But former Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Fawzia Yusuf Haji Adan said the quota is progress, and that a binding quota was a necessary step. “The primary objective of electoral quotas is to reduce gender gaps in representation in electoral lists,” she told DW. “The quotas for women parliamentarians are vital to safeguard the rights of women but it also reflects the population it represents at the parliament.”