Since the inception of Puntland State Assembly in 1998, the number of female lawmakers has remained significantly lower than that of their male counterparts.
The current parliament, which has been running for the last five years, has had only two female legislators out of 66 members. Remarkably, this is the highest number of women since the House came into being.
In the ongoing selection of new Puntland lawmakers that started last August, the elders so far have proposed a list of 19 individuals whose names will be submitted to Puntland Conflict Resolution Committee for endorsement. Out of these, only two are women.
So far, eight women have declared their bids for membership of Puntland Assembly. Women groups have been lobbying to increase the number in the upcoming parliament. But challenges abound. Cultural practices, security and financial constraints put women at a disadvantage in Somalia, despite a gradually changing situation.
Lul Mohamed Warsame, who is a candidate for a constituency in Nugal region, is facing several challenges among them having to battle it out with eight male contenders. In a largely male dominated arena, Ms. Warsame’s journey to the House will be a tough one.
“When I present my position to run for the seat, people tell me you are women, stay at home, this is work for men. But above all I have confidence in myself and such remarks will not discourage me. I have the capabilities to serve my parliament and the public,” Ms. Warsame told Radio Ergo.
Ms. Warsame noted that she has hopes of winning the seat but vowed to keep on her mission in politics even if she loses in the coming polls.
“I am hopeful that I will win this parliamentary seat but if I am defeated or my clan fails to support me, I will even contest for a seat at the federal parliament and Puntland assembly in future,” she affirmed.
To ensure more women get elected to the House, Puntland’s Ministry of Women has been conducting sensitization campaigns.
Puntland minister for women, Faiso Ali Ismail, has been holding discussions with the elders and civil society members to convince them to increase the number of female lawmakers.
Ms. Ismail told Radio Ergo that her ministry is committed to fighting for the rights of women and lobbying for more women in the House of Representatives.
“We committed to securing the rights of women. The ministry has been holding discussions and campaigns on increasing the chances for women in parliament,” said Ms. Ismail. “We are lobbying to get more seats for women from the clans that have three or more seats in the parliament.”
Ms. Ismail confirmed that Puntland state has not established a quota system for women in parliament but she hopes this year women will get more seats in the House, as efforts to convince elders have been accelerated.
“The president is ready to help us women to get our quota in parliament. Therefore we are hoping women will get their quota or something which is close to it,” Ms. Ismail said.
Radio Ergo contacted some of the traditional elders selecting the lawmakers to comment on the challenges facing female candidates.
Abdullahi Mohamed Ilal, an elder, confirmed the obstacles facing women vying for political posts noting age-old Somali cultural perceptions have impacted on Somali politics denying women the right to participate in leadership.
“Puntland is part of Somalia and the longtime existing culture has impacted on women. Some regions still observe retrogressive cultures that have denied women their rights. Therefore there is need for campaigns to educate people to resolve this long time problem,” elder Ilal said.
According to the agreements that led to the establishment of Puntland state in 1998, women were allocated nine seats in the state parliament. Two decades later, women are still facing the same challenges discussed back then.
Asha Guelleh Diriye, who twice served in Puntland assembly, believes it is very hard to secure a quota for women in parliament.
“When you discuss with the traditional elders, they tell you they have respect for women but the pressure from the society has great impact on their decision. The other challenge is women themselves are not committed and they do not sacrifice their time to secure seats,” she said.
Faiso Artan Boos, one of the two female lawmakers in the current Puntland Parliament, has called for commitment to resolve the challenges facing women.
“Most of the time, even in parliament during the formation of committees, women are not given a chance because they are a minority. Therefore unless these challenges are addressed well, the problem will still persist for years to come,” Ms. Boos said.
Despite the role of the traditional elders in submitting the names of the proposed candidates, the final decision lies with Puntland Conflict Resolution Committee to confirm whether the candidates are suited.
Radio Ergo spoke to former spokesman of Puntland Conflict Resolution Committee, Mohamed Hassan Dagaweyne, who blamed Puntland authorities and the traditional elders.
“The committee is usually formed days after dissolution of the parliament. The elders submit the list of the proposed candidates and at this point, it is late for the committee to evaluate the list based on gender quota. Therefore the issue of denying chances to women normally comes from the side of the traditional elders,” he said.
Ms. Ifrah Abdinur Farah, Human Rights advisor to the federal Ministry for Women, points fingers at the traditional elders for creating barriers to realizing the women quota. She also blames Puntland state for its lack of commitment to implement affirmative actions.
“There are factors that influence this failure to meet the quota threshold. The first one is old clan culture which still exists and has impact on the selection of the parliamentarians. The second one is Puntland state which opposes the idea that women can represent their people,” said Ms Farah.
“For instance in the last general election of 2016, Puntland was the only regional state that failed to fulfil the 30 per cent women quota so that is an indication that Puntland is not in support of women in politics. The traditional elders believe that men are the only ideal people to represent the clan and women are under the control of the clan of the husbands.”
Ms. Farah says to resolve these problems, the country needs to end the political system that gives elders the authority to select the lawmakers.
Though it was not a legal provision, the 30 per cent quota for women was negotiated and agreed among stakeholders ahead of the 2016 elections to boost women representation in parliament. As a result, the number of women legislators rose from 14 per cent (38) in 2012 to 31 per cent amounting to 84 lawmakers both at the House of the People and the Upper House in 2016.