Thursday, May 19, 2022
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Somalia’s proposal to improve women’s representation in parliament unlikely

By Jamal A. Mohammed

Over the previous three decades, the contemporary global governance system has seen a growing tendency toward democracy. The international community’s (IC) role has been critical in fostering peace and supporting the process of state development in various parts of the world. However, the IC has faced immense challenges in attempts to support many nations to successful transit to a secular and democratic governance system. At the heart of this is promoting gender inclusivity and participation in politics. A critical component of inclusive politics is the idea of increasing women’s parliamentary representation using gender quotas.

Somalia’s 10 parliament

The gender quota has been a subject of discussion in both the developed and developing nations for quite some time – the Scandinavian nations were at the top of women’s parliamentary representation in the world. However, since 2003 developing nations like Rwanda unexpectedly surpassed the Scandinavians in terms of increased women inclusivity in politics. In addition, different countries such as Argentina, South Africa, Bosnia and Herzegovina, France, and Costa Rica have used the gender quota to push for reforms aimed at improving women’s historical under representation in politics. Globally, women occupied approximately 12% of seats in parliament. The aggregate women representations in parliament are lower than other regions of the world. The sub-Saharan Africa average was 10.20 % whereas in North Africa (NA) the average was 2.97% in 1997. Only four regions had an average above the world average. These regions were North America (NA), East Asia and Pacific (EAP), Europe and Central Asia (ECA) Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) with 15.33%, 14.51%, 13.14% respectively[1]. All the remaining regions had an average of below 6%. More recent data by the African Barometer indicates that women make up only 24 % of the 12,113 parliamentarians in the continent. [2]

According to feminist scholars the lack of women inclusivity in politics may have a negative impact in promoting democracy and even worse delegalizing existing democratic institutions. [3]The gender quota is therefore an important measure to increase the representation of historically excluded or underrepresented groups such as women. The quota proposal involves setting up a percentage or number for the representation of women in parliament – most often in the form of a minimum percentage.

Figure 1 below illustrating the quota arrangement in different regions of the world from 1997 to 2015 in the world- Source: IPU (2005)

In the context of a post-conflict reconstruction of Somalia and other fragile and failed states – a competitive election is central in promoting democracy and providing legitimacy to the state building process. The IC has been actively involved in supporting political processes such as elections in Somalia. Such supports include providing funding, technical assistance on constitutional and legal reform including electoral systems, advice on legislative structures and strengthening political parties’ systems. [4]In turn, these systems are a key institutional tool to improve political processes with a potential to influence an increase in women participation in parliament. Though some critics argue that the gender quota in Somalia and other post-conflict states is a donor driven initiative and an attempt to impose a neoliberal thinking – it is still somewhat a better mechanism to uplift, and safeguard participation and representation of traditionally excluded groups in a male dominated sphere of influence. 

The gender inclusivity debate in Somalia commenced in the 80s with increased efforts by Siad Barre’s regime to empower women in different fronts – a move that did not resonate well with male dominated Somali patriarchy culture. Thereafter, after the fall of the government in the 90s – women and other vulnerable groups were not actively involved in politics. A push for increasing women participation in political space evolved voluntarily since the Arte and Mbagathi peace accords. In addition, the last two indirect elections in 2016 and 2022, respectively, have shown the efficacy of promoting women participation in politics and more specifically the impetus of the gender quota proposal. The gender quota in the ongoing 2022 election was capped at a minimum figure of 30% in the house of people (HoPs) across all the regional states. According to the election monitoring system for 2022, only 50 seats in the lower house are held by women out of 247 elected legislators.[5] Unfortunately, the proposed quota in the ongoing election will not be achieved – even if half of the remaining 26 seats were categorically allocated to women.

Figure 2 below on women representation in parliament. Source:  2021-2022 election monitoring system; doorasho2022.so

Source:  2021-2022 election monitoring system; doorasho2022.so

There is no doubt that the current parliament does not and will not meet the gender quota. As it stands the Somali nation is busy building the foundation of a just, democratic, and representational government. The political process is a continuous and dynamic process, and the issue of gender representation will grow as the other principles of democracy are further entrenched within the political and governance system.

Jamal A. Mohammed
Independent consultant and Doctoral Candidate at Politics & International Studies, The University of Warwick, United Kingdom, CV4 7AL.
Email: [email protected] ,    

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Reference

  1. Inter-Parliamentary Union (2005) Plan of Action, 26 March – available online at http;//www.ipu.org.org/wmn-e/planactn.htm – accessed date 17 April 2022
  2. Women’s Political Participation: African Barometer 2021: available online on   https://www.idea.int/publications/catalogue/womens-political-participation-africa-barometer-2021,  accessed date 16/04/2022
  3. Norris, P (2003) Electoral Engineering, Voting Rules and Political Behaviour , Cambridge University Press.
  4. Reilly, B (2003) International Electoral Assistance: A Review of Donor Activities and Lessons Learned, Working Paper 17, The Hague; Netherlands Institute of International Relations, Clingendael.
  5.  Election Monitoring System – 2021 – 2022 available online at doorasho2022.so – accessed date 15/04/2022

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