Women have very limited opportunities to participate in formal Somali peace processes. But Faiza Jama describes how they have provided critical leadership in civil society peace initiatives in Mogadishu and elsewhere to reduce violence and create conditions for dialogue, by demolishing checkpoints, demobilising militia, monitoring human rights and interceding between belligerents.
Although women are typically excluded from decision-making forums, their position within the clan system gives them the ability to bridge clan divisions and to act as a ﬁrst channel for dialogue between parties in conﬂict.
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Women and peacebuilding
During the Somali civil war many women found themselves at the centre of conflicts fought between their sons, husbands and other male relatives. For the sake of their families many women have been active in peacemaking and peacebuilding.
Women, tradition and local peace processes
The war against Siyad Barre’s regime in the 1980s was seen as a just cause by many Somalis and many women participated in the struggle to end the dictatorship. Those who earned respect from their participation later used this to demand concessions from warlords and militias. Several became leading members of civil society and the women’s movement and became engaged in peacebuilding.
Women, civil society and peacebuilding
Excluded from the all-male arena of clan-based politics, women have directed their collective political acumen and agency into the civil society space that opened up after state collapse. Within the somewhat inchoate definitions and boundaries of civil society, Somali women have operated as key players and shown keen leadership. Indeed some women would argue that Somali civil society organisations’ engagement in peace work did not start until women took a dedicated leadership role.
Human rights Mariam Hussein, widow of the human rights lawyer Ismail Jumale, founded the Ismail Jumale Centre for Human Rights to monitor and record human rights violations so that perpetrators could be brought to justice once proper institutions were in place.
Disarmament The IIDA Women Development Organisation of Merca was founded by Halima Abdi Arush, a former teacher, headmistress and education inspector, who lost her husband and many members of her family in the Somali conflict. Initially formed to support internally displaced populations, in the mid-1990s it started a daring initiative to disarm and retrain young militiamen. In a direct challenge to the warlords, the programme required militiamen to commit to refrain from violent acts and to hand over their weapons. In return they were given tools, training and start-up capital. Some 156 militiamen were demobilised and their rifles melted down.
Peace and security The network Women Pioneers for Peace and Life, known as HINNA (Haweenka Horseedka Nabadda), was formed in 2003 by former women fighters, such as the late Medina Generale. They became ‘peace pioneers’, organising peace campaigns and using the respect they earned as fighters to intervene with militia and warlords to diffuse tensions at critical times in Mogadishu.
HINNA’s first major campaign in 2005 was to remove 42 roadblocks from Mogadishu and to encamp and retrain the militia. With the agreement of warlords and militiamen HINNA mobilised resources from businesses and CSOs and established two camps. A lack of international assistance, however, meant that the camps could not be sustained and the boys returned to the roadblocks.
Women and internationally-sponsored Somali peace processes
In theory at least, international support has afforded women civil society activists an entry point into externally-sponsored peace processes, which had previously largely been a male preserve. In the Arta conference in Djibouti and the Mbgathi conference in Kenya, women made inroads with their participation and representation.
Somali women-led civil society organisations have achieved much in the past two decades. They have helped to disempower the warlords, reduced the significance of clan affiliation, ensured civil society representation is essential to any peace and reconciliation process, and made progress on the participation of women in politics. But Somali women still face constraints in breaking through gender-based inequalities and cultural and practical barriers to equal political participation.