War, peace and women’s long journey for justice in Somalia

Background media: Somalia women; women peace and security

Somalia hasn’t been in the news much in the past couple of years – which is largely good news – but just because there aren’t headlines doesn’t mean there isn’t something happening.
War and drought continue to plague parts of the country, especially in the Southern part where Oxfam Canada has a project that supports water, sanitation and livelihoods with funding from DFATD.  Conflict thrives here, still, and is further exacerbated by changing rainfall patterns that make growing crops and livestock hard.
In other parts of Somalia, in Puntland and Somaliland however peace has gained a foothold – and this is due in no small part on the role women and women’s groups have played, according to the report: .
By considering how peace has been achieved in other parts of Somalia, the report notes that apart from ending suffering due to violent conflict peace processes have the potential to provide a means for changing gender relations, increasing levels of justice and acting as a starting point for women’s empowerment. By contrast, if women are excluded from these processes, the various roles that women play during and after violent conflict are neglected, as are potential opportunities to address socio-cultural gender imbalances as part of a long-term process that prioritizes the right to life, identity and security.  In this context, the report examines the extent to which formal and informal processes have brought a gender-just peace; to what extent women’s rights and power relations have been addressed; and how peace processes can be developed to increase gender justice and the status of women as part of sustainable conflict transformation that addresses the root causes of violence.
The research is based on the underlying assumption and acknowledgement that women and girls:

  • are impacted differently from men and boys by conflict and violence in society,
  • have voices and perspectives that are often marginalized in both formal and informal settings,
  • are the target of violence that issues from conflict, and constitute the majority of those that are displaced or extremely vulnerable.

Solutions aren’t easy but they aren’t impossible either.  As many of the discussions outlined in this report suggest, changes at all levels of society are required, which demand an approach dealing with the cultural and structural roots of inequality and conflict. Civic education, the provision of services, public spaces for discussion, and the championing of male allies to support men and women’s efforts in building a fair and sustainable peace are all crucial elements of any peace process. Women’s peace efforts rely on supporting communities as much as supporting women’s rights.
There is lots more in the report but this short poem from a Somaliland women expressing her frustration at the ongoing conflict between related clans sums it all up for me:
Of the men I gave birth to
Of the clans I am caught between
Of my brothers who have shared my mother’s milk
Of my father who gave me my lineage
If they pick up arms against one another
It is as if they have burned me as well.

(p. 10 Dudi Ahmed, Somali woman from Allah-Amin)

Written by Ann Witteveen, Manager, Humanitarian Unit, Oxfam Canada

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