Somaliland: A SIHA Network Reflection on the Gender Equality Agenda in the Country

Somaliland: A SIHA Network Reflection on the Gender Equality Agenda in the Country

Somalilandsun:In order for effective, inclusive, and influential women’s movements to flourish in Somaliland, there is a need for widespread recognition of activism that extends beyond the traditional modalities of large women’s rights organizations within the NGO sector.74 Women in Somaliland have the right to explore different formats of organizing for change, that suit them and fit into their lived realties, and this right must be encouraged.

Somaliland has a strong foundation for a vibrant and influential women’s movement. The number of women entrepreneurs in Somaliland – small business-owners, traders, vendors, and so on – is a testament to the strong foundation for the women’s movement.

They will challenge, not only the notions of discrimination against women’s involvement in labor and business ownership, but also any form of discrimination, which hinders women’s access to power and political decisionmaking institutions. The struggle of young Somali women to access education and to have a voice is another strong testament to the growing movements of young women who have an agenda and are willing to fight for better conditions. Finally, the involvement of women in Somaliland in art and cultural activities through the Hargeisa Cultural Centre proves the capacity women from Somaliland have to occupy public spaces and to organize and mobilize beyond the limited models offered by NGOs and the clan system.

It is important to enable conversation between women and youth (female and male) in Somaliland, and to encourage their efforts to challenge the militant Islamic discourse and ideology that is contributing significantly to the slow progress toward addressing women’s fundamental rights in Somaliland. Moreover, there is a need for negotiation and engagement with other groups across Somaliland communities, including religious and established leaders, as their cooperation would significantly reduce the barriers facing the movements for gender equality and justice in Somaliland. Challenging the discriminatory practices and rhetoric being espoused by militant Islam does not require a rejection of the religion as a whole. Rather, the women’s movement can directly engage with religious texts and rhetoric to demonstrate that women’s rights and gender equality are compatible with Islam. Indeed, there are examples of feminist Muslim movements around the world with which women in Somaliland can connect, and from which they can learn.75 There is an opportunity to benefit from the experiences of women’s movements in other predominantly Muslim countries such as Morocco, Tunisia, and Egypt and leverage the lessons that can be learned from how these women activists have managed to challenge the impact of religious militancy on women’s rights from within Islam.76

The Somaliland women’s movements can further benefit from learning about how women’s movements in other Muslim-majority countries have successfully advocated for the ratification and domestication of and regional women rights treaties, such as the Convention on the Elimination

74 Al-Karib, 2018

75 Baig, 2016; Charrad & Stephan, 2020; Kirmani, 2009

76 Al-Sharmani, 2014; Eddouada, 2008; Kirmani, 2009

of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol).

Somaliland women activists could initiate conversation with allies within the Somaliland government in order to connect with state actors in predominantly Muslim countries, and to share learning and experiences with Islamic religious law reform for the recognition and protection of women’s human rights. SIHA Network’s work through the Women in Islam journal and advocacy to challenge discriminatory rhetoric that hides behind false religious justification, and Musawah’s work advocating for Family law reform, could serve as useful support for the women’s movement in their efforts to shift discourse, mind-sets, practices, and policies.

SIHA’s work supporting women street vendors in Somaliland to form their own cooperatives and provide capacity building training for advocacy and business skills has was particularly successful in enabling urban poor women in Hargeisa to formulate their demands, access political platforms, and advocate for policy change, such as reducing or eliminating the street vending taxes from city council, providing public washrooms, establishing an ID-card system, and ensuring their access to health insurance and services. The cooperative model has supported women’s access to resources and economic development as well as their organization into coalitions and groups that represent their economic needs and political aspirations. Similar programs could also be implemented in IDP settlements.

This is conclusion  of a study titled A Reflection on the Gender Equality Agenda in Somaliland undertsken by SIHA Network

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