By Ruqia M. Farah
Somali security, stability, and the political roadmap have been heavily invested in to benefit the Somali people and beyond for more than a decade now. Until recently, Somali people and the international community thought that the country was turning a corner. A peaceful transfer of power was seen as a symbol of hope for Somalia, however imperfect the political system has been in previous presidential elections of the Somali Federal Government. Today, we are witnessing a new political crisis and worrisome manoeuvres among Somali leaders. Somalis fear the return of the senseless conflicts and the political vacuum which dominated their lives for more than a quarter of a century. It seems that the Somali people haven’t yet learnt a lesson from the damage that single-minded men in pursuit of power have caused to their country and people for so long.
The question is where are the voices of Somali women in all of this? Do they have a role in finding a solution to this current political crisis and deadlock? I think the BIG MAN politics and the absence of women’s voices in the political arena will not lead to sustainable political stability and security in Somalia in the long term.
The Somali civil war and its aftermath have demonstrated the imagination, resilience and maternal instinct for the survival of Somali women. The suppression and the patriarchal system that has been dominating their lives for centuries has not dented their superpower at all! Today, what is left of Somalia has been mainly sustained by women through remittance sent after they fled to other countries and settled in as refugees in addition to those who remained at home, keeping their families together inside various unimaginable conditions in Somalia. For example, Somali women are well known in Western countries for being single mothers raising boys and girls on their own even though the majority don’t have formal education or literacy skills. They have soldiered on to survive and raise their children in countries in harsh climates with a range of social, cultural and linguistic barriers. Nothing could stop them when it came to the survival of their families! But sadly, the Somali culture favours sons over daughters. However, since the civil war, some fathers have come to realise that not having a daughter is like being childless!
My point here is to ask ourselves if Somali women could save Somalia from falling back into anarchy and the eruption of new conflicts if they deploy the same determination and self-sacrifice. In my opinion, their voices and initiatives for leadership are needed more than ever. Staying silent and seeing themselves as the victims of their country men’s mess is no longer an option. Furthermore, they need more than their innate abilities and their caring nature if they desire to save and serve their nation collectively. They should rise to the challenge, be more serious and visible, and get organised to begin as a force!
Women are formidable forces when we look at history and other societies where they are treated as equal human beings, valued and supported. If given the opportunity, women can accomplish anything in their reach and more, and do so as well as men, if not even better.
It is imperative to change the culture of posturing, sabotage and tit for tat among the political leaders to achieve sustainable peace and stability in all parts of Somalia. Somali people need to think of alternative new paths for leadership instead of pursuing the destructive, accustomed ways of politics at government and clan levels. And for that reason, Somali women need to demonstrate that their ways of managing things and resolving problems are more peaceful and productive. Can they become better leaders? We may argue why not? Their caring nature, selflessness and attitude of self-sacrifice could be a springboard for their leadership. And fingers crossed, in the absence of chauvinism and the removal of Somali alpha males who are constantly competing for power, they may succeed.
Having said that, in the last decade of Somali politics, it seems that women may be as unconscious, greedy and corrupt as men. After all, they are part of an egotistical society. Although, unlike men, they may not squander their spoils on ‘shaxaad’ for pleasing their clan elders/men, multiple marriages, building clan militia or for gaining tribal/clan loyalty. Some descriptions are given to what makes good leaders are their political convictions, principles, integrity, honesty and values in life. It shouldn’t simply be a question of replacing one gender with another. But there are stages where it is necessary to use quotas or tokenism for women to be represented/gain representation. However, the ultimate goal should be that they earn their place in society on merit.
It is vital to develop an inclusive, decent political system for the survival of the Somali people and their nation whatever we might call it, which can supersede the toxic, tribal mentality that has crippled the Somali nation for so long. We need politicians, men and women with substance, humility, integrity, honesty, skills and understanding of their roles and responsibilities. These should be the basic requirement that one should expect of themselves so that they can serve their people to the best of their abilities. Only then we can hope for Somalia to become a better place to live.
But, at present, I am afraid to say that so far Somali women have not shown that they can be better leaders in the current situation of Somali politics and public life. ‘The proof of the pudding is in the eating’ when we look at the conduct of the Somali parliament since its inception. The poor manners, lack of wisdom, professionalism and responsibility of Somali parliamentarians (both men and women) have been on display in every sense. How can we expect things to change for the better in Somalia when the majority of the Somali people don’t have any confidence or respect for the highest branch of the Somali government – the lawmakers, although women make up a small proportion. I am not only talking about the Federal parliament in Mogadishu but all those of the member States.
I know many people will not like to hear this, but people can easily observe the lack of a sense of duty to serve amongst those in power. There are many power-hungry maniacs in cahoots with their tribes/clans or with foreign nations for their gains. In the context of the Federal political system, the current political structure of Somalia has been formed on a contaminated ground where all sorts of nasty and harmful social illnesses can fester e.g. injustice, greed, social divisions, corruption, nepotism, clannish/tribal mentality and politics of personalities. To start with, the warlords and the nasty people who brought indiscriminate killings, rape and all sorts of havoc to the Somali people have been welcomed as parliamentarians and senators without any rehabilitation.
In general, although not warlords, fighters or initiators of wars, women are not innocent either. They are the mothers, the sisters and the aunts of the fighters and the killers as well as the financial and moral supporters of wars and conflicts among Somali tribes and clans. If we, women as the mothers of all want to live among a non-violent society in which women and girls are respected and valued, we have to start the necessary social changes at home. Particularly, how we as mothers bring up our boys and educate them will influence their views and behaviours towards women and girls.
There is a Somali proverb that says, “An illegitimate she-camel doesn’t produce a legitimate calf“
When concerning elections or choosing parliamentarians, I do not think these people have any legitimacy or mandate to represent Somali people in the first place. They are being chosen by clan chiefs or leaders through corruption. The international community including the UN can choose what they want to believe but we, Somalis, know the system is rotten and it benefits those in power and their backers only.
I can understand the notion of Somalia’s governing system has to start from somewhere after decades of conflict and chaos. But I think it is a system that has been built on falsehoods and that is why we are now coming in a full circle without knowing any better and Somalis being as unwise as ever!
Parliamentarians, Federal or State, consist of individuals who are not selected on their merits but come to power to enrich themselves as well as their fame and social status. As we all know, parliamentarians are not chosen for their political experience, skills and good character. They have therefore very little to offer to help with the reconstruction of Somalia politically, economically and socially.
The executive branch of the government is no better than the lawmakers, after all the parliament is the mother, synonymous with questioning how “a diseased head/mind hold healthy limbs” I cannot get rid of the images of Somali women sitting in the parliament in sessions where they are fiddling with their handbags, mobile phones and their exaggerated head scarfs with sunglasses on top of them as they are there for leisure.
Seriously speaking, I don’t see men and women parliamentarians who wake up every morning to serve their people to the best of their ability. One would expect that they have chosen to become parliamentarians to make improvements to the lives of the Somali people who have suffered so much.
Looking at their faces, I do not see men and women determined as public servants who come to that place, a ‘so-called parliament’, every day to carry out their public duties. Somali people need a cultural shift towards substance over nominal practices in politics and public life.
Furthermore, the existence of the deep-rooted social norms and believes/dominant narratives that constrain Somali women and girls in Somalia need to be addressed. They have got their bigger share of the struggles and challenges which women and girls face in many other countries on the globe. However, there are some success stories in Somali women’s achievement when they have the personal autonomy and freedom to make a difference in their roles despite the enormous obstacles and the mountains that they have to climb. They have shown their strength and stamina in running businesses and sustaining the livelihoods of their families and communities.
On an equal measure, I believe that Somali women can now play key roles in politics, peacebuilding, security, social and economic development of their nation. Today, Somali women and girls have got better chances to advance themselves and become more active and effective participants in rebuilding their communities and their country as a whole. In honouring their mothers before them, they should demand that we, as Somali women and girls matter, our lives matter, the future of our daughters’ matter and our roles and participation in reconstructing and reshaping Somalia matter.
We should shout loudly and clearly over the rooftops that the days of just being the victims of wars, marginalised, ignored and undermined are numbered!
And finally, it would be very interesting to see A SOMALI WOMAN holding the highest office of the land once and see if she vacates the seat when people tell her that she is not up to the job or her time is up!! But before that happens, Somali women have reason to be hopeful once they have found the courage to walk and work with men side by side rather than trotting three steps behind.
Ruqia M. Farah
Email: [email protected]
Ruqia is a Freelancer Somali language trainer, consultant & linguist, UK.
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