Position Paper – Improving Women’s Access to Information and Meaningful Participation in Somalia

Country: Somalia


This position paper is based on information gathering conducted by the Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA) in Somalia and involves different groups of women and women’s organizations, including grassroots women’s organizations/networks, women human rights defenders, activists, women politicians, IDPs and women with disabilities.

The central government of Somalia collapsed in 1991. Since then, Somalia has been experiencing a protracted civil war. In 2001 the first transitional government of Somalia was formed in Djibouti. In 2012 Somalia moved from the transitional period to a permanent government seated in Mogadishu, the capital, with full recognition. The Provisional Constitution of Somalia (2012) establishes a federal system consisting of the Federal Government of Somalia (FSG) and several federal member states (FMSs). In the meantime, a large part of the country is under the control of the violent extremist group al Shabaab.

This position paper addresses three issues:

  1. Women’s lack of access to information on the current happenings in Somalia in general
  2. Women’s absence from political and key decision-making processes.
  3. Increasing cases of violence against women and girls and the lack of justice and accountability systems to protect women and girls from undue harassment and abuse.

Women and the Right of Access to Information

Access to information is a right stipulated in international human rights treaties binding on Somalia and is crucial for exercising other rights and protecting women and girls. As an enabling right, access to information is a precondition for meaningful participation in all issues. In Somalia, information is not made available for women. As a result, women lack basic information and awareness of political processes, decision-making, security risks and resource allocations. The lack of transparency and openness contributes negatively to the level of corruption, where Somalia is lowest in the ranking of Transparency International, with limited access to resources and justice.

The lack of access to information is common for Somalia’s population – men and women. However, women are disproportionately affected because men are positioned in decision-making places and are part of robust social networks, including clan networks, which provide access to formal and informal information-sharing mechanisms. The lack of access to information creates or exacerbates vulnerabilities and marginalization and further deepens power imbalances.

Due to the information gap, women’s security and access to justice are weakened. The Federal Government of Somalia and federal member states are under a legal obligation to provide reliable and timely information to women in all matters of the country with complete transparency. This is more urgent when it comes to security-related matters. To ensure women are protected, and their security guaranteed, the FGS and FMS must take their responsibility seriously and urgently.

Moreover, women are generally not given access to information pertaining to the activities of international interventions, including the African Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS) and the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM), including how these activities impact women, nor are women given access to related decision-making processes.

Women in decision-making positions.

Women are underrepresented in decision-making and senior positions at both the federal and regional institutions and in all sectors of government – security agencies and civilian apparatus. The limited presence of women in senior positions reduces women’s role and capacity to influence policies. Consequently, government decisions tend to ignore women’s needs and concerns, including their security needs, despite the fact that women are at least 50% of the population and play a crucial role in the economy, security, and societal well-being.

The UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000) “urges Member States to ensure increased representation of women at all decision-making levels in national, regional and international institutions and mechanisms for the prevention, management, and resolution of conflict.”[1]

Full and genuine support for women’s issues 

Women’s issues, including laws and policies drafted and approved by the executive branch of the government, do not get genuine and meaningful support to push parliamentary approvals. For example, the Sexual Offences Bill was submitted to the People’s House. Critics spread misinformation and disinformation about the Bill, including all sorts of lies that are not in the Bill. The government failed to defend the Bill and provide information to the public. As a result, the disinformation convinced many grassroots groups, including women. It is the responsibility of the government to convey awareness and inform the public of the content and substance of the Bill as well as other issues. The inability of the government to defend the Bill has had a catastrophic effect on the struggle for women’s rights in Somalia, especially when considering the presence of violent extremism in the country.

The increasing violence against women and girls and the lack of justice and accountability systems to protect women and girls from undue harassment and abuse require both legal and policy actions with coordinated activities involving the Federal Government of Somalia and the Federal Member States. The success of these actions depends on the political willingness and active and meaningful involvement of women in the formulation of laws and policies as well as their implementation on the ground. Moreover, awareness-raising tailored for the different sectors of society – nomadic, rural and urban – must be undertaken to defend women’s rights and strengthen positive narratives.

Way forward

The women who have participated in the consultation and preparation of this position paper agree that the FGS and FMSs must effectively and efficiently address in a genuine manner the women’s lack of information on the current happenings in Somalia in general, women’s absence from political and key decision-making processes and the increasing cases of violence against women and girls and the lack of justice and accountability systems to protect women and girls from undue harassment and abuse. Furthermore, the African Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS) and the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) must recognize that they have a role in contributing to these issues – they improve their information-sharing mechanisms with women and carry out proper consultations with women and women-led organizations.

Therefore, we call for:

  • Information sharing, transparency and openness: the Federal Government of Somalia, federal member states and international partners, including ATMIS and UNSOM must adopt strategies to make information available and accessible to the broader public and women in particular. Access to information is a human right and must be systematically and effectively published in mediums that make accessibility possible, including access to people living with disabilities, grassroots communities, and nomadic and rural communities. Programs and projects must be made open and transparent for public scrutiny.
  • Increased meaningful participation of women in all levels of decision-making: women’s participation in decision-making at all levels of government – local, federal and regional – must be increased. This not only applies to the quota, but also concerns positions as senior civil servants, military officers and judicial officials. Moreover, women must be provided opportunities to participate directly in political processes and contribute to discussions before policy decisions are made.
  • Awareness raising and effective mechanism for the protection of women: women’s causes and concerns require state support and backing to realize their effective implementation. Women-related issues should not be treated as ‘ticking a box,’ but there must be political willingness to stand for eliminating gender inequality and gender-based violence. This must include countering misinformation and disinformation and the allocation of resources for awareness-raising.
  • Deliberate awareness on the Sexual Offences Bill (SOB): to reduce and counter the misinformation and disinformation surrounding the Sexual Offences Bill, the government of Somalia must raise awareness about the true content of the SOB and take measures to ensure the SOB is approved by the Parliament.

[1] UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000), adopted by the Security Council at its 4213th meeting, on 31 October 2000.