Women’s political participation in the Greater Horn of Africa is at a dangerous impasse
We as the women’s rights activists of the We Cannot Wait Consortium are in mourning after the loss of MP Amina Mohamed Abdi who was killed along with 47 others in a suicide bomb attack in Beledweyn. Amina was a member of the Union for Peace and Development Party and an MP on the committee on humanitarian affairs. She had been serving as an MP since 2012, when she first won a parliamentary seat at the age of 24.
Amina was a human rights campaigner, and a fearless advocate with extensive experience in Quranic studies, having previously worked as a Quran teacher. “Amina was a member of parliament, a great woman and human rights crusader who stood firm in the fight to have a just society for all groups” (Mrs. Nafisa Yusuf, Executive Director of Nagaad Network). She was known for challenging anyone who promoted discrimination or violence against women and girls (VAWG), even clan elders and religious militants. When challenging discriminatory rhetoric she would draw on her significant knowledge of the Quran and Hadith to support her arguments for gender justice and equality. Amina Mohamed was threatened and told to stop her advocacy work, especially her insistence that the elections, which had long been stalled, move forward.
“At FIDA Uganda, we celebrate women like Amina Abdi for pushing through such a male dominated space in Somalia. She dared to defy the odds where women are viewed as less competent to lead. The participation of women in all spheres of life is crucial to the advancement of society and anything less creates a lacuna in the development of humanity” (Lillian Byarugaba Adriko, CEO of FIDA-Uganda).
Many women in this region are entering politics peacefully and democratically, like Amina did, and yet we are confronted with threats, physical violence, hostility, and hate. Women like Amina sought political office to represent and serve, unlike those who sought to exclude her, the elites who inherited access to resources and wealth. “This region is struggling with war, instability, and religious militancy; however, this region is also struggling because of its lack of meaningful feminist leadership. Unless women as citizens are enabled to meaningfully engage in the political process, the region will be haunted by armed conflicts and cycles of violence” (Hala Al Karib, Regional Director of SIHA Network).
Beyond physical threats, character assassination and smear campaigns, mocking, demeaning, trolling, and other forms of harassment intended to ruin reputations and inflict psychological damage are employed against female politicians and candidates who dare to have a voice in the political decision-making processes in this region. In the face of all this, Amina remained unhindered. Her brave refusal to be intimidated out of office may be the reason she was targeted. Amina is not the first female parliamentarian in Somalia to be killed for daring to challenge the gendered status quo; Saado Ali Warsame was gunned down in public in July of 2014. Other women activists have been killed in Somalia, such as Almaas Elman, a civil society and women’s rights activist who was shot in Mogadishu in November of 2019 while advocating for peace.
The Somali Prime Minister has attributed Amina’s murder to generalized disruption of the election. However, we reject this attempt to obscure the relation between Amina’s death and her identity as a Muslim woman in politics who was known for taking an unwavering stance in opposition to misogyny and inequality in Somalia. “This act of violence targeted Amina not only because she held contrary views to the ideology of the terrorists but also because she was a woman very knowledgeable about her faith and firm in her conviction to serve her country fairly and justly. Confident women committed to their faith and public service for the greater good are an enduring threat to extremist groups the world over” (Zharin Zhafrael Mohamed and Huda Jawad Co-Directors of Musawah).
In a tweet posted the day after Amina’s murder Khadra Dualeh, former Minister of Commerce and Industry in Somalia shared that she is haunted by their last conversation:
“I was scared for her & asked her to leave Somalia for safety. She replied ‘when we all leave what about our youth[?]’ She said, ‘I trust in Allah & will not succumb to threats.’”
The killing of Amina Mohammed Abdi speaks to the complex challenges and risks that confront the struggle for women’s political participation, not only in Somalia, but across the Greater Horn of Africa region. “I deeply felt saddened by the brutal murder of Amina Mohamed Abdi and join in solidarity with our partners in the We Cannot Wait Consortium, to ask for justice for Amina who fought against gender-based violence and played a considerable role in advancing gender equality” (Lensa Biyena, Executive Directress of Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association).
We have all observed the level of human rights violations women protesters are experiencing in Sudan where they are enduring physical and sexual violence for claiming their political agency and amplifying their voices. Women across the region who seek political office are subjected to smearing campaigns and systematic attempts to undermine their credibility. Women politicians in the region also report that they are at times denied the financial support and accommodations that their male counterparts receive to facilitate their participation in political meetings and events.
As women activists and feminists promoting the meaningful participation of women in the political governance of our nations and region, we emphasize that feminist leadership and meaningful engagement of women and their agenda in the region that comes with hefty price. We expect the national, regional and international communities to insist upon accountability for VAWG and to support women’s leadership in political spheres beyond tokenistic inclusion as we seek peace, stability and democratic governance in the region.
We anchor our demands in our experience and knowledge as African feminist activists and in the protections enshrined in international frameworks such as The Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination (CEDAW), The Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol), the Beijing Platform of Action and the Sustainable Development Goals.
To the Government of Somalia
- Initiate a thorough investigation into Amina’s murder.
- Take immediate steps towards ending immunity and the systemic violence against women and girls in Somalia.
- Approve the 33% minimum quota for women in all branches of government to enable an increase in women’s political participation at the various levels.
- Adopt the Sexual Offenses Bill to increase protection of women, giving them a sense of safety while participating in politics and the public sphere.
To the African Union, IGAD and the Governments of the Region
- Establish accountability mechanisms to measure progress towards increasing women’s meaningful political participation in countries in the Greater Horn of Africa.
- Hold the region’s militarized elites accountable for violence against women and end the impunity of militarized forces.
- Integrate accountability for violence against women and girls into your governmental and bilateral engagements across the region.
To the International Community
- Commit to a long-term strategy to strengthen the capacity of women political leaders and to enable the meaningful engagement of more women in shaping policy and the legislative framework.
- Hold social media companies such as Facebook and Twitter accountable to quickly remove any misogynist and smear campaign content that is promoted on their platforms.
- Ensure that support for governments in the region is contingent upon accountability for improving the status of women’s rights and access to justice within their respective countries.
Signed and endorsed by:
The Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA Network)
The Association of Female Lawyers in Uganda – FIDA- Uganda
Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association (EWLA)