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Somalia: Implementation of Women Quotas in Indirect Electoral System Based on Clan

Sunday, November 22, 2020
Dahir M Mahmoud


History records the crucial role women played in life and social evolution. In Muslim society, women contributed to different aspects of life, such as education and trade. For instance, prophet Muhammad’s wives - Khadija and Aisha played a significant role in trade, narrating the Hadith of Prophet (Sunnah),the development of family laws and history (Sira).

In the twentieth century, the promotion of women in politics emerged from Pakistan and former Soviet Union in the 1950s then spread all over the world gradually. For example, Pakistan was the first country to reserve seats for women in parliament. After 1990, the International community introduced a new tool to increase women’s representation in politics – Women’s Quotas.

To answer the question on the implementation of women quotas in Somalia, where an indirect electoral system based on clan is used, we need to examine the legitimacy of quotas in Somalia, the Electoral system, the quotas objectives and their Effectiveness.

Legitimacy of Quotas

There are three types of woman quotas used in politics: reserved seats (constitutional/legislative), Legal candidate quotas (constitutional/legislative) and political party quotas (voluntary). The first two types are based on the constitution or legislative whereas the third is left to the political parties to decide on. Somali women quotas are not mandated by the constitution or legislation (Electoral and Political Parties Law). The Provisional constitution imposes an obligation to include women, in effective way, in all national institutions, in particular all elected or appointed national independent commissions. Similarly, Electoral law calls all political parties and election institutions to respect the conditions of women quotas. It seems that the electoral law consolidates pre-existent legislation but in reality 
 no law for women quotas.

Somali women associations campaigned to include gender equality provisions in the constitution, and also amending electoral and Political Parties Law to fully promote equality but the move was not successful. There was an effort made by the Lower House of Somali Parliament (House of People) to adopt a resolution imposing 30% of women quotas in next election of 2021 but the resolution did go to Upper House to get legal status due to conflict between the two houses.

On the other hand, the concept of gender equality is an internationally recognised principle incorporated as a fundamental human right. This principle had been inserted in number of international conventions such as the convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women (CEDAW) adopted UN in 1979, Beijing Declaration adopted in 1995 and promotion of gender equality and empower women adopted in 2010. Despite these international conventions and declarations giving legitimacy to women quotas, the UN Human Rights site shows that Somalia did not adopt CEDAW convention. It is clear that Somali women associations and international partners have no legitimate claim for women quotas but exploit political commitments made by political leaders.  

Electoral System

Electoral systems are divided into three main types: Proportional Representation (PR), Majority /Plurality and Mixed representation. There are different forms and subsystems under majority, such as the first-past-the-post (FPTP), etc. The success of quotas mostly depends on the type of electoral system in the country. It is obvious that the implementation of women quotas requires the existence of electoral and party system. In Somalia, where indirect electoral system is applied, it would be impossible for women quotas to succeed.

Quotas  Objectives

Increasing the number of women’s representation in the national legislatures is aimed at protecting women’s interest in the legislative and decision-making. Another way is to adopt laws and policies on women’s interest, such as gender-based violence (GBV), land rights, family and inheritance law. 

Somali women convention was convened in March 2020 in order to defend women’s interest in constitution, electoral and political party law. Somali women’s charter was published at the end of the convention in which called “for the constitution to enshrine unconditional commitment to gender equality, human rights and empowerment of women”.  The charter recommended a consideration of the Somali context in the implementation of its objectives but the Somali ministry of women and human rights development deviated immediately from the recommendations of the convention. For example, the previous minister of ministry of women and human rights development of Somalia proposed a sexual offences bill which created fierce debate in the parliament, religious leaders and the public. The bill did not conform to Islamic laws and Somali cultural norms (Xeer). Therefore, the bill failed prematurely before being tabled in front of parliamentarians. This failure was signal to ministry of women and human rights, Somali women activists and international partners to consider Somali context and abandon -one solution for all.  

On the other hand, Somali women MPs exploited quotas protect their clan interest rather than women interest. For example- a women activist in Mogadishu reported that her organization tried to mobilize women MPs and unite a single candidate  for deputy speaker vacant position. The campaign failed as many women MPs decided to defend clan interest rather women interest.

Quotas Effectiveness

A number of authors have raised questions on quotas effectiveness. A notable article was published in the New York Times – February 1st, 2019 - under title of “Germany Want more Women in Politics But Quotas are Bad Idea”. The author argued that the forced parity is fundamentally antidemocratic and women quotas do not eliminate the root cause of gender disparity in political representation.  Before electoral gender quotas, the world used to focus on women’s development such as education access, workplace equality and political rights. Somali provisional constitution enshrined principle on equality in order to remove formal barriers by giving women voting rights, the right to elect and be elected, was considered enough. These activities were aimed at grassroots change whereas quotas tend to be result based. Hurdles facing women political participation are divided into formal and unforeseen barriers. The article took one formal barrier – legislative sessions are intensive and family unfriendly often running late in the night, jeopardizing women’s primary care responsibility. Similarly, in Somalia- married women are not permitted to neglect her husband and family although Somali women activists are mainly led by Diaspora women who abandoned their families in the western countries.

To sum up this article that helps us to understand implementation of women quotas in indirect electoral system based on clan, we can conclude following points:

Somali women quotas are not mandated by the constitution or legislation (Electoral and Political Parties Law). In addition to that, there is no international obligation because Somalia did not ratify CEDAW convention.
Somalia has neither electoral system nor political parties thus women quotas are inapplicable. At this stage, women development programmes are more effective.
Women interest should be based on Somali value rather than international order. The Somali law protects the whole community including women.

Women quotas are having adverse effects on democracy, women MPs occupied more than three terms to reserved seats, blocking well-educated female candidates.
No solid justification for increasing Somali women political representation from 24% to 30% because the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU-2018) statistics of women in parliament  show  that Somalia met Global average (24.1%) and is higher representation  than  Arab states average (18%), Asia (19.7) and even USA (23.5%).

Dahir M. Mahmoud (Dawilow) - London, UK.
He can be contacted via Email: [email protected]

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