Two prominent members of the WDS share their stories of what the platform means to them, and reflect on the challenges and opportunities faced by women in the region.
Mrs Marwo Abdi Ahmed is a founding member of the WDS. She is the only active female member of the Council for Peace and Unity: a council of notable elders, clan chiefs, and other prominent personalities in the Somali region who work on conflict management, peacebuilding and fostering social cohesion. She is affectionately referred to as "Suldana" by her colleagues – a prestigious traditional title that is solely given to male traditional leaders (“Suldan”) – in an effort to challenge a long-standing tradition that excluded women from traditional leadership.
Asiya Abdilahi Elabe is a member of the Somali Region state council, the current chair of the women's caucus of the regional council, the vice chair of the standing committee on pastoralist development affairs, and an active participant in the WDS. She is a clinical midwife, a sociologist, and has worked for various government agencies and INGOs, with a specific focus on child protection, serving refugee communities and combating gender-based violence.
Marwo Abdi Ahmed
“One of the problems that we have always had was the absence of a safe environment where women from various backgrounds could come together, discuss matters that are significant to us, and raise our voices in unison to demand solutions to problems that we confront. The WDS has given us the chance to unite women from all walks of life and across social and political divides. This has given us the resolve to unite and fight for change. It is difficult to execute drastic and radical changes to the status of women in Somali society because of the deeply rooted and pervasive patriarchal tradition of the Somali people. However, women are adamant about overcoming all obstacles and glass ceilings that have prevented us from contributing significantly to public decision-making.
"Although the WDS is still in its early stages, we have already made notable progress. WDS members put in a lot of advocacy work during the sixth harmonised national election to persuade political parties to field more women as candidates. We also ran election campaigns for women and engaged with clan chiefs to confront their unfavourable and misguided views toward women candidates. As a result, women obtained results that were better than in previous elections. We continue to interact with higher government officials to address the numerous challenges women face in society and advocate for more women’s political representation. We don't want to rest on our laurels as any progress could be undone unless it is supported by guarantees enshrined in the constitution and other legal frameworks.
"We engaged in dialogue with religious and clan leaders, as both institutions are considered the gatekeepers that sustain prejudices against women. One interesting result of our discussions with the religious scholars was that they categorically stated that Islamic teaching does not discriminate against women in comparison to their male counterparts. Instead, it is their Muslim brothers who deny women's rights, and the practice and cultural norms of societies cannot be attributed to Islamic teachings. The religious scholars consented to collaborate with us in educating the public about eradicating these myths, and they have already appeared in a documentary film that has been broadcast on regional state television. We have also agreed to collaborate in order to enact a regional family code that complies with Sharia law and safeguards women's rights.
"However, cultural discrimination is more pervasive, and our discussions with elders have not yielded any substantive results beyond vague remarks of niceties, and empty promises. We are aware that bringing about cultural change is extremely challenging and that it will take years to see a genuine impact. Nevertheless, we are committed to continuing our advocacy work and challenging any real or perceived prejudice against women. We'll keep pushing until there are no longer any barriers for women.
"The Women’s Dialogue Space mentorship programme has allowed young politicians to pick the brains of their more seasoned counterparts, and have the chance to learn from the practical experience of their colleagues. We have also appreciated the lessons learned from Somaliland's more politically engaged and organised women leaders. A female politician who contested in three consecutive elections who, despite not being elected, served as an inspiration for a group of WDS members that went on a learning trip to Hargeisa. They were inspired by the altruistic efforts that women had performed for their community, where they had constructed more than 100 schools out of their own pockets.”
Asiya Abdilahi Elabe
“The WDS platform has given me the chance to learn from other women lawmakers who have more experience than I have. My interactions with them have reassured me and motivated me to continue this work.
"When I was elected to lead the regional women's caucus, I had no prior knowledge of what a caucus was or how it was managed. KasmoDev made it possible for us to travel to Addis Ababa and meet with the Oromia women's caucus and Federal House of People's Representatives. The visit helped us to appropriately steer the caucus and we have initiated activities aimed at fortifying our caucus as a result of the experience we gained from the Federal Women's Caucus.
"As soon as we returned from Addis Ababa, we reviewed our annual plan and updated it to better reflect the lessons learned and recommendations given by the Federal Caucus. We came to the realisation that the caucus should prioritise enhancing the skills of its members while also keeping in mind defending the interests and advantages of the women in the broader region.
"We are enthusiastic about promoting laws and policies that safeguard the interests of our society in general and women in particular. We are also dedicated to educating people about the different issues that are harmful to women's socioeconomic and political interests. We are committed to resolving the difficulties that our women face in a variety of situations that gravely violate their human rights.
"I applaud KasmoDev and their partners for their hard work and cooperation with the women. As a sociologist and someone who has worked as a women's rights activist, I believe there is much work to be done to support women in their efforts to contribute to the development of our societies in a more democratic and inclusive manner.
"I am grateful to have this space [Women’s Dialogue Space] to continue to network, learn from the other women, build my skills, and to share my knowledge. This space is critical in combating harmful stereotypes of women, encouraging more women to participate in politics and public decision making”.
"The WDS platform has provided women with leadership development training and assistance in other areas that they have identified as critical to the advancement of their political careers and leadership. The WDS members have been given the opportunity to visit Hargeisa, Dire Dawa, and Addis Ababa for comparative learning and experience sharing. The platform established a mentorship programme for women politicians to support one another, share experiences, and provide opportunities for young women politicians to learn from more experienced colleagues."
Conciliation Resources and KasmoDev continue to provide technical and financial support to the WDS (established in early 2021) mentoring support, comparative learning, and the development and implementation of strategic roadmap priorities for the WDS.
Conciliation Resources' and KasmoDev’s support to the Women’s Dialogue Space platform is funded by Irish Aid.
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