Somalia: Somali Women keen on more vehement role in politics [Interview with Minister]
Somali women have been facing formidable challenges and complain about marginalization in politics but they in turn played a pivotal role in securing peace deals between warring forces on the ground. Among the stumbling blocks are cultural and strict religious beliefs, lack of distant goal, psychological backwardness, rape and domestic violence.
Following Somali state collapse in 1991, women braced up for arduous tasks by putting their lives on the frontline to make urgently pressing priorities possible and shape their own destinies.
In Puntland where relative peace prevails in comparison to south-central regions and women are earning livings with ease, Ministry of Women Development and Family Affairs is endeavoring for working democracy, wider participation in decision-making process and elimination of deep-seated Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
Anisa Abdulkadir Haji Mumin, the current minister of women who returned from the United States in February this year is putting more robust policies into practice to champion women empowerment and encourage their rights to education, positions of authority and employments amongst others as enshrined in regional constitution. In an exclusive interview with Garowe Online staff writer, Mumin explains women’s keenness on democratic traditions as well as larger role in politics.
GO: Could you briefly give us some background about your social and political career before clinching this ministerial post with the Government of Puntland?
Before taking on this position with Puntland Government, I was running a consulting firm that specialized in human resource and policy development. It was providing capacity building to businesses in the states. I was also doing my Post-MA research and contemplating whether I might have gone abroad to teach, stay or prepare for doctoral studies.
GO: in early March, you alongside Deputy Minister of Women Development and Family Affairs, Farhio Yusuf Hirsi Bilig, paid a visit to remote areas as well as coastal towns along the Indian Ocean where locals have no access to many amenities including primary health care and education, how have you reacted to that prevailing plight?
As Per Puntland Government’s pledge to go beyond urban areas, we embarked on a trip to visit three places-Qaw (in Bari Region), Alula and Bargal (in Gardaful Region) - and paid closer attention to economic, education, social and political needs. We saw how Qaw, which is roughly less than an hour away from Bosasso lacked basic services notably primary and secondary schools, health care centers, roads, and employment opportunities. I knew the farther we go the worst it will be for residents of these areas.
To compare needs in different locations and evaluate the type of assistances they need. We made stopovers at different villages including Gorgoorey where people have not seen and met any government official. The last time they were able to see international agency was a year ago when they erected a solar system for their water well. The solar panel was broken, water is fetched from afar and mostly women bear this burden while men sit and watch. It is viewed normal particularly when women don’t have a husband, brother or son who can help her.
We visited Taageer village where water was scarce but its residents were cheery and received us gracefully. Then I along with my delegation members moved into Baargaal, roads are undeveloped [earth roads], schools have few teachers, no equipments such as computers, laboratories for demonstration and proper place for recreational activities. Health facilities lack proper equipments for maternal, child services as well as staff. Still the people were happy to welcome us, show us around and displayed hope despite their suffering.
In Alula, Habo, Geesalay, Dhurbo and Bareeda, the conditions are worse. Schools have no supplies nor do they have all the above we’ve mentioned in Baargaal’s schools. Health care centers are rare; more often pregnant women are transported by small boats to Bosasso hospitals when their time to give birth to draws closer. These families are very poor, the rental boats are very expensive and it was said its cost ranges from few hundreds of dollars to a thousand.
Some women die under such deplorable situation while her family is raising the money for the rental boat. Some are stranded in the middle of the ocean while some make it to the hospitals but those mothers do not survive.
People get used to not having government services in hand. However they have despaired from external assistance, they appear optimistic and as always depend on themselves. The good thing is those areas are home to date farms, for instance locals are reliant on incense and date harvests for their livelihoods.
Nevertheless there are no programs that develop and build the capacity needs for the people in these locations not to mention. The roads used for accessibility pass through mountains, rough and dangerous terrain and isolated rural areas. One may wonder why Puntland which was established in 1998 has not done something in these areas.
The needs of the people in rural areas are countless and I believe if we are willing, we can envision treating both rural and urban areas equally by servicing them without favoritism. After all, the majority of the people mostly affected are women and children, persons with disabilities and elders. No society grows where women and children suffer. Farhiya and I have gained immense experience that was both emotional and an eye opening. We wish to fulfill our promise to serving people fairly regardless of clan, location or ability to grow.
GO: You were assigned to this post as minister of Women Development and Family affairs on January 28, what can you boast of ever since?
I do not feel I can brag as of yet! However one of the most important key achievements for the ministry has been getting the Female Genital Mutilation policy signed on March 8th, 2014 and implementation is currently underway. On that same day we began to recognize women activists, former politicians and educator who have sacrificed much for Puntland. For these heroes, we produced certificate of recognition and we plan to continue doing this every year.
The Ministry of Women Development and Family Affairs and Ministry of Education have magnanimously collaborated on conducting the Day of African Child. It was first of its kind and the first time two ministries collectively came together to mark such event.
In Puntland where families crave for economical growth, needy families pour everyday into the ministry asking for assistance. Since there is no correct data on how many families are in need of children’s education, health care expenses, food, solution to violence cases, child protection and other basic services, we established a day when the public can come, fill forms and state their needs. We review those forms and direct such inquiries to the concerned bodies. It was because of this holistic approach in collecting data from families that we were able to provide many families with different services. I was invited to and took part in the Girl Summit held in London where delegates from around the world came together to advocate girls and women rights. I have attended different gatherings such as Prevention and Safeguarding, Protecting Those at Risk and and Bringing it all Together and Ending FGM through Strong and Effective National Action.
The later initiative focused on how to eliminate FGM and early child/forced marriage. This issue was apparently brought into light, something common in all Africa and it was a moment to realize it’s time for African sisters to stand together in fighting against what harms them physically, emotionally, mentally and psychologically.
We discussed about how to protect children at risk, those that have been affected, and educating the society on how to combat such practice. There were psychologists, gender experts, lawyers, doctors, and activists.
I met with Norway’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and we spoke on how to recognize the above issues in Puntland and how to end them. Norway is in full support of the adoption of UN General Assembly resolution in 2012. It was sponsored by the African Group to intensify international efforts of eliminating female genital mutilation; henceforth the 2014-2017 initiative will create a strategy to combat this phenomenon.
Norway said it is committed to ensuring that no girl is subjected to FGM and that those who already have been circumcised will be given the best possible care. According to WHO estimates, 125 to 130 million women faced genital mutilation and more than three million girls are at risk of being subjected to FGM annually. Age groups that carry out this procedure fall between 45 and 49 years old. Besides, I talked to youth educators, youth peers who are eager to come back to Somalia and help the local youth. Their sizzling energy will definitely ignite positive outcome for the local adults and youth for they seek the unity of our youth and collective efforts towards meeting their needs.
In the past few months, we have been working on the ministry’s five-year strategic plan. We are finally ready to launch it on September 8th. The gathering will focus on child protection, FGM, gender based violence and gender policies where certain percentage of quota in women will participate in decision making processes and other improvements.
GO4: There has been a low turnout when it comes to women’s role in Somali politics, what are the key priorities of ministry of Women to boost your role with wider participation in Puntland political landscape and Somalia more generally?
Educate, empower, prepare and train young women so that they can rise to be tomorrow’s stars. Our aim is to help them identify their needs, understand how they can resolve them and what plans to have to make their dreams come true realistically.
GO5: As always during elections, either presidential or parliamentary selection process women complain about marginalization due to the clan elders interference, do you think there are alternative choices for women to independently seize key opportunities within the confines of the law?
Yes, with Puntland constitution reserving 20% of seats for women and Provisional Federal Constitution (PFC) encouraging 30%, women are able to not only fulfill the quota but also to increase it. What is needed is to empower the young women who are educated, bright and ready to lead while educating and preparing the active ones who have what helps them gain the experience and skills for political processes. Nothing is impossible; it is how we go about this, what key areas we need to hit on and resolving the dilemma women are facing which keeps them to stay away from the political arena. Some of these problems include educational, societal, economical or clan ideologies towards women and their ability to make difference within the society.
GO 6: Puntland is in full force campaign to shake off clan-based system and transcend to truly democratic civilian state over the coming years, how can democracy become solution to women’s under-representation in politics?
What women need to find is a niche, to realize and carryout what unites them. Without women supporting each other, it’s difficult to empower others to advocate for including women in political processes. The ministry is always ready and empowers women on all levels to become director generals, council members, mayors, parliamentarians and ministers.
There is tacit agreement when women join the decision making process, it is for the betterment of the family, community and the society as a whole. This is what women need to take advantage of and make things happen in the favor of all women, not just one or few. What matters is how we get our goal not our differences. From there, we will challenge clan- based systems and unfair processes that hold women back.
GO7: Are cultural prospects the main challenge facing Somali women in the decision-making process?
Not necessarily. Our society went through major setbacks that condone ignorance and reject positive growth. Somali men never protested against educating girls and including women in decision making processes. However, I fear this trend where women are held back is due to women themselves. Many women are ready to take the lead but never speak up, some are keen on joining political competitions but lack the support and some are simply in politics for personal interest.
GO8: What are the plans ahead for your ministry of Women Development and Family Affairs?
As Einstein said “Imagination is more powerful than knowledge”, what we plan and hope to achieve are infinite. While we are willing to create tangible results in all that we do for the people we would like to be realistic in our planning.
Since we are nearing the end of the year, we are close to establish and implement ongoing gender policy, execute the ministry’s departmental structures, improve our IT and capacitate the newly formed HR, gender development and research departments within the ministry and finally see the erection of our new building near the state house. We have been working on its new design for the past few months. To ensure all female staffers come to work on time without worrying about their infants and toddlers we will be the first institution which would have daycare center in the new building.
GO9: According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), nearly 6.5 million Somali girls and women underwent Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), making Somalia a leading country in per capita female circumcision and here in Puntland it is widely known that traditional practitioners in rural areas perform the cutting, did former governments put bills in place to counter FGM? Is your ministry ready to overcome this deeply rooted custom? How can this practice be brushed off Somalia in general and Puntland in particular?
With Somalia and Sudan being the highest when it comes to FGM practices and it is estimated 90% of girls are cut, lack of water, food and education are some of the obstacles that make difficulty in combating FGM. No former government has established rules to hold traditional practitioners accountable. The general understanding is that people continue this practice to avoid social exclusion.
Puntland is the first region that signed the implementation of FGM policy. The ministry is collaborating with Justice and Religious affairs Ministry to establish clear provisions on cutters and parents that encourage cutting. Concurrently, the ministry will educate cutters, elders, parents and girls about this vicious practice.
Since this practice is deeply rooted in Somali tradition, the ministry will approach its end from holistic approach and through getting supporters in the cabinet, parliament, elders, and Islamic scholars who have influence on how society conducts things. Our task is not to question why the procedure has existed but why does it still continue? What religion says about the cutting and mutilation of girls’ organs? and what prevents us from growing out of this old tradition that hurts and brings havoc on girls’ lives.
The beauty of positive change is that we see the light and then we forget that there is a fear around people abandoning old beliefs. For the sake of our girls’ safety, we understand the form of change that takes time, we realize that we must remain patient, determined and eventually the fruits of our laborers shall be harvested.