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Publication Detail
Political settlement in Somaliland: a gendered perspective
Abstract
Research suggests that inclusive political settlements tend to be more stable. For Somaliland in the northern Horn of Africa, stability is underpinned by a patriarchal clan-based system that is non-gender-inclusive. The question therefore arises as to how the transition to greater inclusivity might be achieved without destabilising Somaliland’s political settlement in the process. The most recent 2012 Gender Inequality Index for Somalia rates the whole of the old Somali Republic at 0.776 (1 indicating maximum gender inequality), the fourth-lowest position in the index (UNDP Gender Unit, 2012). In practice, this means that the Somali territories are characterised by high levels of maternal mortality, gender-based violence, illiteracy, child marriage, rape, female genital mutilation and inadequate health services for women and girls. While this data does not relate to Somaliland alone, it provides a likely indication of the severity of the imbalance between women and men in the country. The data that is available for Somaliland shows similar gender disparities. Girls are less likely to be enrolled in primary school, for example, with 95,578 recorded in Somaliland in 2012/13 against an enrolment of 119,453 for boys. That disparity increases significantly at secondary level, with 12,306 female enrolments in the same year against 26,932 for males (MoLSA, 2014). Despite the pains of transition, there is good reason to consider a more inclusive political settlement as a means of reinvigorating the Somaliland polity. Our research and other evidence in the secondary literature show that people in Somaliland are becoming increasingly disillusioned with the ‘politicisation’ of clan and the rise of ‘clannism’. These developments in the political settlement are themselves potentially destabilising, but this time of change offers room for gender-focused activism that uses greater inclusivity for women and men (as well as minority groups) to help promote peaceful transition in Somaliland. In this report, we argue not only that the Somaliland political settlement is currently relatively stable but non-inclusive in gender terms, but that there are compelling reasons on both normative and instrumental grounds to urgently improve this situation. We present the results of a 21-month research project, including new primary data about attitudes towards improving women’s political participation and reducing gender-based violence. We conclude the report with a number of suggested initiatives, the contours of which are worth emphasising from the start. Firstly, it is important that international involvement is not seen to dominate gender initiatives to the degree that these interventions add to the growing perception that ‘women’s issues’ are a concern of liberal foreigners and are therefore ‘un-Somali’. Secondly, it is important that donor programmes seeking to address the gender-inclusivity of Somaliland’s political settlement take a long-term view, and are grounded in principles supported within Islamic ethical structures. The Somaliland government and political parties also have a significant role to play in opening spaces for both men and women to participate actively in political activities at all levels. Thirdly, therefore, we recommend a return to closed lists in elections, and a focus on finding ways to deliver on the constitutional guarantee of equal rights for all citizens. While it has supported Somaliland’s peace effectively in many ways, clan-based justice is manifestly unjust in many cases of sexual violence. Fourthly, we therefore suggest that it is important that mechanisms be found to draw customary elders into a legal system that provides more effectively for the victims in such cases. Somaliland’s success in establishing a viable political settlement in the face of considerable odds is impressive, but the transition from customary structures to those of representative nation-state politics exposes gender imbalances that could threaten to undermine that success. The research outlined in this report supports efforts to engender an inclusive and robust political settlement for the future.
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