It has probably become more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in armed conflicts.
This weekend, a conference on the Horn of Africa with focus on peace and security took place in Lund, Sweden, organised by the Somali International Rehabilitation Centre (SIRC). Although the focus of the conference was not specifically on women as security actors, many interesting points where made by both speakers and participants on women’s role in peace and security in the Horn of Africa and particularly in Somalia. Two speakers focused on the role of women as actors for peace and security in Somalia, Dr. Shukria Dini and Lilla Schumicky.
The Role of Women
Dr. Shukria Dini, who is the founder of the Somali Women’s Studies Centre in Nairobi, Kenya, talked about how the breakdown of the Somali state have created a new space for women as actors for peace and security. However, she also pointed out that women are marginalised and that the patriarchal clan system, which is very powerful in Somalia, opposes women’s involvement in decision-making. Hence, Dr. Dini questioned the use of the clan system to promote women’s rights, saying: "Why use a system that denies women participation to promote women’s rights? It will never work."
Women Civilian Protection Units
Lilla Schumicky, who is working for the UNDP in Somalia, spoke about a recent initiative in Mogadishu, where women have formed Women Civilian Protection Units (WCPU) as a means of securing their communities. In districts where units have been formed, 100 women patrol the streets, of which 70 are resident women, 25 IDP women, and the rest are women from a management committee. The women report criminal activities to Rapid Response Police Units by using a SMS system where their text messages are forwarded to the nearest police station. Women's active involvement as security actors in these units have led to their social, economic, and political empowerment. The Women Civilian Protection Units have also raised women’s profile as well as the profile of the police. Both have gained leverage as a result of the units' reporting of criminal activities and the arrival of police shortly thereafter. The Women Civilian Protection Units have been a success and the programme is to be scaled up later this year to include more districts in Mogadishu.
Challenges to Women’s Participation
Despite recent initiatives to promote women as peace and security actors, like the Women Civilian Protection Units, there are many challenges to women’s participation. Women are still largely viewed as passive victims, not agents for change, and there is a lack of unity among different actors working for women’s empowerment. Civil Society Organisations (CSO's) and parliamentarians work in isolation from each other and there is little unity among CSO's. Hence, there is no collective agenda or policy. As a result of the lack of resources and funding, women’s rights organizations in Somalia are also competing with each other for funding. Dr. Shukria Dini believes that there is a need for gender budgeting to make sure that women receive a fair share of international funding, which would also reduce the competition between the organisations and increase the chances for unity and a collective agenda.
Dr. Dini pointed out that the international community needs to take responsibility as well when it comes to involving women, saying that when Ban Ki-moon visited Mogadishu, he only meet with male leaders and made no effort to speak with women. Dr. Dini also highlighted that women are often invited for the "wrong" reasons saying: "Those days are over when we are there to decorate the room".
The Road Ahead and the Need for Capacity Building
The breakdown of the Somali state has opened a door for women’s participation, but there is a lack of political will, unity, and resources blocking further progress. What is desperately needed is capacity building to strengthen civil society and unify different actors in order for them to collectively formulate policy points and advocacy strategies. Women’s participation as security actors is vital if Somalia is to move from being a failed state plagued by conflict to a functioning democracy. Women are in many ways the future of Somalia; without them there can be no peace and security.
Emmicki Roos, Operation 1325