Women's Role in Peacebuilding and Development in Somalia Term Paper

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Role of Women in Peacekeeping in Somalia

Women have an important role to play in peacekeeping and resolving societal conflicts. After all, in their traditional roles, women are already expected to negotiate agreements within families, as heads of households, as community members and increasingly, as peace activists.

This paper examines the role that women have played in building and keeping peace in Somalia. It looks at whether the participation of women in the peace process leads to greater social recognition of women's rights. It also examines which factors can become obstacles to the greater participation of women in peace-building and decision-making.

The first part of This paper looks at the status of women in Somalia, with a special focus on legal protections for women's rights today. The second part then looks at how women's organizations have participated in the peace-making and peace-building process. Special emphasis is given to the unconventional methods that Somali women have used to influence political policies, such as the utilization of kinship and personal connections and other methods of advocacy.

In the conclusion, this paper examines whether these roles in peace-building have resulted in the greater participation of women in public life. In Somalia, this paper shows that despite playing an invaluable role in bringing about peace, the gains for Somali women have been limited. For larger reforms to continue and for the building of true gender equality, women need access into the clan-based and regional political structures. Greater macroeconomic reforms, such as addressing concerns raised by privatization, would also improve the status of women in Somalia.

Finally, this paper argues that for the establishment of true gender equity, women should continue their work amid these challenging situations. Somali women had already initiated much reform, amid situations of famine, conflict and war. Their pioneering work is still sorely-needed towards generating true structural reforms and ushering gender equity in Somalia.

Women's status in Somalia

In many respects, Somalia reflects many traditional gender roles found throughout the African continent. Unlike many countries in the West, there still remains a very distinct division of labor between the men and women. Men are charged with being the economic breadwinner for their families (Gardner 22). They are generally seen as the heads of the family, and they have access to greater participation in political and other aspects of public life.

Women, in contrast, occupy revered positions in private life. The tasks of care-giving for the members of large, extended and blended families, often falls on the women. Somali women are also charged with taking care of the home and by extension, fields and livestock (Gardner 34). When they do participate in economic life, it is often as part of the underground economy.

Somalia is a patriarchal society, and this social organization informs the rights of women. The defining role of Somali women is therefore related to child-bearing, child-rearing and the myriad other tasks in the home. Within the nomadic and agricultural structures of Somali economic life, the responsibilities of women are pre-defined (Gardner 62). Women live within these strictures, as the formal decision-making falls on the male head of the household.

These roles are defined quite early in a Somali girl's life. Somali society takes extreme pride in family ties, and the behavior and honor of girls and women therefore reflect on their entire family. The importance of one's natal family is further stressed by the cultural practice of keeping one's surname instead of adapting that of the husband's. Somali tradition dictates that a woman keeps her father's surname, identifying her maiden family even after marriage (Gardner 61).

In many poor families, the birth of a female child is not a cause for celebration. Boys are the preferred children, since males are able to engage in paid labor.

Girls, on the other hand, can be seen as burdens or risks. If they engage in socially deviant behavior, girls can face severe punishment for bringing "shame" to their families (Mire). These punishments include the use of physical force. Slapping, beating and caning are commonplace

Unfortunately, this dynamic can change upon marriage, especially since polygyny is common in Somali society.

However, polyandry is strictly forbidden, as are sexual relations outside marriage.

Additionally, while Somali law allows daughters to inherit property, they can only inherit half the amount to which their brothers are entitled. Furthermore, in areas governed by traditional Muslim Shari'a laws, the families of female homicide victims are only entitled to half the compensation paid when the victim is male (U.S. Department of State). This is ostensibly because of the greater economic livelihood lost with the loss of a male family member.

While there can be significant differences between the lives of nomadic, rural and urban women, the gendered division of labor permeates all aspects of Somali society. Unlike their male counterparts, girls are not expected or encouraged to get an education. Boys often attend day schools, while girls are initiated into household chores and other tasks related to care-giving.

Somalia is not a signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). There is also a distinct lack of legal instruments protecting the rights of women. For example, there are no minimum age laws concerning marriage, and young girls are routinely married off to much older men. There are no laws against spousal rape. Furthermore, while laws against rape do exist, they are difficult to enforce. In 2005, for example, there were no officially reports of rape in Somalia. However, many non-government organizations have reported rapes committed by police and militia. Also, as rapes occur in inter-clan conflicts, many rape victims are said to be refugees displaced due to civil war or members of minority clans (U.S. Department of State).

For the victims, the crimes of rape are further compounded by the way sexual relations outside marriage reflect upon the family. Family reactions could range from ignoring a girl's rape to sustained discrimination due to her "impurity." A rape victim also has virtually no access to protections against unwanted pregnancy and sexually-transmitted diseases.

The practice of infibulation, more widely-known as female genital mutilation (FGM) is also widely-practiced in Somalia. While the practice is illegal, laws against FGM are also not widely-enforced. The lack of reliable statistics and cultural practices that value FGM make it difficult to diagnose the extent of this issue (UNIFEM).

In summary, even in the best of times, the lives of Somali women are governed by social strictures. They are charged with carving out lives within the strict social parameters of being considered second-class citizens. These strictures place severe limitations on women's participation in public life.

Conflict and Somali women

The collapse of central government in Somalia in 1991 plunged the country into chaos. Fighting erupted among rival factions and clans. Thousands starved, as the international community scrambled to put together a humanitarian response. The fighting and resultant dislocation of thousands of Somalis affected women the hardest, due to their secondary positions and the patriarchal nature of Somali society.

After dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was deposed in 1991, there was a pronounced decrease in women's participation in the public sphere. During Barre's 22-year regime, women served in various public positions, such as the military, as ambassadors and in the judiciary. The visibility of women was severely cut down in the ensuing conflict (UNIFEM).

The civil unrest and famine have made it more difficult for women to regain their former positions. As food insecurity increased, women were placed in more vulnerable positions. They needed to venture further from the safety of their households to find food and other basic necessities. This in turn places women at greater risk for rape and other violent acts.

The absence of the central government also helped to usher in the growing influence of traditional Shari'a laws. By 1994, Shari'a courts were increasing their jurisdiction to go beyond traditional cases of civil and family law, to include criminal proceedings (UNIFEM). Many of these laws run counter to women's interests. For example, a woman who commits adultery or has sexual relations outside marriage could be subject to death by stoning.

Somali women are also hard-hit by many indirect effects of civil unrest. In a country that never had a strong health system to begin with, Somalis are further hit by deteriorating health infrastructure. Women are at a further disadvantage, as Somalia already has one of the highest maternal mortality and morbidity rates in the world (UNIFEM).

In the growing civil conflict and amid the lack of a central government, clans have increasingly dominated Somali public life. The rise of clan politics also sparks additional dangers for women, who often become pawns and victims in inter-clan conflicts. Women are in danger of being assaulted and raped in the escalating clan violence.

The Somali conflict further eroded legal protections for the already-disadvantaged Somali women. There are currently three systems of law competing for dominance in Somalia, namely customary, civil and Shari'a law. Each legal system already offers inadequate protections for women, and there is… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Women's Role in Peacebuilding and Development in Somalia.  (2006, August 4).  Retrieved December 12, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/women-role-peacebuilding-development/775613

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