Elder’s perspective on women’s participation in the electoral process

“Ultimately, I believe cultural change will favour women, especially when we move to party politics, where leaders are elected on the basis of their manifestos and not gender.”

These words by Suldan Warsame Suldan Alio Ibrow, an influential leader and clan elder from Somalia’s South West state, sum up his views about the prospects for women in Somalia’s political transition.

At the clan level, Suldan wields immense influence. The 49-year old from the Jiido sub-clan of Digil clan, was among 135 clan elders who took part in the selection of Electoral College delegates.

According to Suldan, the push for women’s greater political participation, presents an opportunity to build a more democratic and inclusive political system in Somalia.

“As traditional elders, we view the 2016 elections as a unique moment in our country’s history. It is a progressive step,” Suldan says.

With Somalia’s indirect electoral process almost complete, close to twenty percent of newly elected MP’s to the House of the People, as the lower chamber of parliament is known, are women.

This may be shy of the targeted 30-percent reserved quota for women in the Federal Parliament, as was stipulated by the country’s National Leadership Forum (NLF), but changing perceptions about women in Somalia, gives hope for greater opportunities for them in the future.

“Somali women held society’s together, after the country slid into civil strife 25 years ago,” explains Suldan adding that without that effort by women Somalia today would be in a “much more difficult place.”

Politically, Suldan does not believe the clan system has held back the election of more women condidates as some have suggested. He argues that this year’s polls have infact offered women a chance to fulfil their legislative agenda. “This is the reason I strongly support the quota allocated for Somali women in politics,” he adds.

“Although Somali culture does not expressly celebrate women in politics, perceptions have gradually changed especially after the 1991 collapse of the central government,” Suldan said.

Looking back, he says the push for women’s recognition gained momentum during the Somali National Peace Conference, held in Arta, Djibouti in 2000.

The conference, aimed at bringing together warring factions to end the civil war that had claimed 300,000 lives and led to the establishment of the Transitional National Government. At that conference crucial decisions were made which paved the way for greater visibility of Somalia’s marginalized groups such as the women.

Nominated an elder following the demise of his father in 2012, Suldan predicts a major shift in favour of women in 2020 elections.

Source: UNSOM