Since Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed stepped down as Somalia’s Prime Minister last summer, the Somali parliament has been in a state of transition. Last week in Puntland, in preparation for the elections scheduled to take place in August 2012, the Somali government held a meeting with civil society and representatives from the UN and the African Union to discuss the formation of the new government. Among other issues, the inclusion of women in political leadership positions was discussed. Dr. Mariam Aweis Jama, the Minister for Women’s Development and Family Care, and Malyun Sheik Heidar, the Director for Women’s Affairs at the Presidential Palace, were active in the campaign to advocate for the advancement of women in the government.
Jama said that in Somalia women are denied access to leadership and accused Somali men of not respecting women and preventing them from having a greater role in politics.
A woman has only ever held the ministerial post for Women’s Development and Family Care, and no woman has been appointed to other ministerial roles.
“As I remember, in the country’s history only the Ministry of Women’s (Development and Family Care) was always given to the Somali women. But that time was passed and we are going to have an equal share in the future cabinet,” Heidar said.
Currently, women comprise only 7% of the Somali parliament. During last week’s meeting, however, it was determined that the percentage of women in parliament will increase to 30% after August’s election.
Certainly, an increase of 23% within a year marks a significant boost in representation. Even so, Jama vows to continue pushing for full equality:
We are not satisfied with 30 percent and I am telling you with a loud voice that after the transitional period ends we want 50 percent of parliament’s seats to go to women…There are thousands of educated women, including hundreds who have specialised in policy, so I am confident that Somali women currently have the knowledge and the power to lead.
The Somali women who are looking to launch careers in politics face an uphill battle; even though 30% of parliament positions will be reserved for women in August, there are still many men who are opposed to women advancing in the government, particularly some fundamentalist Muslims who do not believe women should have roles in politics. However, if Jama and Heidar are indicative of the average female politician in Somalia, these women will not give up easily. I look forward to seeing the results of August’s election, when we will learn if the 30% quota is met, or if Jama’s goal of 50% female representation is realized.