Let me begin by congratulating Ireland on your presidency this month, and to thank you for the invitation to brief today. I would like to also extend my greetings to Ms Shukria Dini whom I had the pleasure to meet during my visit.
I commend the Council for your leadership on Women, Peace and Security and in particular the commitment of Ireland, Kenya and Mexico to prioritize this issue during their successive presidencies.
Earlier this month I had the opportunity to travel to Somalia. This was the seventh mission I have undertaken focused on women, peace and security in recent years, and the first in person since the start of the pandemic. It was also my second visit to Somalia on this issue.
The trip was undertaken in solidarity with Somali women’s calls for full and equal participation in political life, including through the implementation of a 30 per cent quota, and to express the support of the international community for timely, inclusive, peaceful and credible elections.
Somalia reached a milestone in its 2016 elections with 24 per cent of parliamentary seats taken up by women. These figures demonstrate that progress is possible even in the most difficult circumstances. But even so, they fall short of the commitment Somalia’s political leaders made to achieve 30 percent women’s representation in parliament. Every woman matters.
There is real concern that in the current elections to the House of the People, levels of representation will decrease, despite promises and stipulations in electoral agreements.
While in Mogadishu I met with President Farmajo, Prime Minister Roble, members of the National Consultative Council – comprised of the Prime Minister and the Presidents of the Federal Member States, members of the Federal Election Implementation Team, State-level Election Implementation Teams and the Electoral Dispute Resolution Committee, women’s groups, civil society, and traditional elders, as well as with representatives of the international community.
Consistently and across the board, I heard a strong commitment to the principle of women’s equal participation and the 30 per cent quota.
It was encouraging to hear from the National Consultative Council that they have agreed on measures to ensure the integrity of the elections, transparency, credibility, and the gender quota.
I also appreciated the Prime Minister’s leadership and the concrete actions he has taken to build women’s representation.
These include reducing candidate fees for women, and appointing Goodwill Ambassadors to support and advocate for the 30 percent quota with Federal Member State leaders.
It was also encouraging to hear traditional elders acknowledge the central role of women in advancing peace and security in Somalia.
All were committed to the issue of women’s inclusion.
And yet, real challenges remain.
Women themselves spoke of ongoing obstacles.
They struggle to access financial support to hold campaigns; they also lack the political networks and connections of their male peers.
The political environment in general is not conducive to women representatives, and many male leaders continue to promote male candidates.
These challenges are compounded by violence and discrimination. Women reported that in some states, female candidates are unable to rent campaign offices – a simple and effective way to prevent them from being elected.
Across the board, women spoke of the need for greater protections from intimidation, harassment and violence.
Just three days ago, Ms. Hibaaq Abukar, an Advisor on Women’s Affairs and Human Rights in the Prime Minister’s Office, was killed in a bomb attack in Mogadishu.
I pay tribute to Ms. Abukar and to all Somali women who run risks every day to fight for their rights.
Women in areas controlled by Al-Shabab face added security challenges that undermine their efforts to campaign openly.
The women I met called for a concrete mechanism to ensure the implementation of the 30 per cent quota, and for a move towards direct elections in the form of one person, one vote.
The current format of indirect selection leaves political decision-making in the hands of clan elders, all of whom are men.
Women called on their leaders to implement all political agreements related to the elections in full. This includes the 17 September, 27 May Agreement and the 22 August communique, in which leaders of the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) and the Federal Member States (FMS) made a commitment to the 30 per cent quota for women.
Women also called for constitutional reforms that would create a permanent solution by reserving a proportion of parliamentary seats for women, and for women to be included in electoral committees, as delegates and as candidates.
At the State level, the ministers for Women Affairs whom I spoke with encouraged the United Nations to continue to support both the constitutional review process, and a multi-party electoral system. They emphasized that this is the key to increase women’s participation in future elections and political processes.
There was also a recognition that women’s economic empowerment is linked with political participation, and directly impacts women’s ability to engage in public life. They called on the United Nations to redouble our efforts to support women’s opportunities, independence, and participation in economic activities.
My visit to Somalia took place at a time of heightened tensions between political leaders. In my talks with the President and Prime Minister, I reinforced the message of the international community that Somalia must not return to the divisions and conflicts of the past.
Both leaders committed to do everything possible to avert a crisis by continuing dialogue, resolving issues peacefully and maintaining the momentum for elections.
Since then, the situation has evolved, and the Secretary-General’s Special Representative has briefed you on this. Despite sustained negotiations, there has been no breakthrough yet, and I encourage Somalia’s leaders to de-escalate tensions, find a compromise solution and continue the progress on elections that will strengthen stability across the region.
The need for regional stability was also highlighted in meetings I had with Presidents Kenyatta and Hassan in Kenya and Tanzania on my way to Somalia. Both heads of state emphasized the need for increased and sustained attention by the international community to issues of stability in the Horn.
It is clear that Somalia is a neighbourhood concern.
Both the country and the region need a secure transition, so that they can focus on consolidating the dividends of peace and investing in the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals.
Somalia has achieved considerable momentum with its electoral process. It is critical that this continues through the finalization of the Upper House elections and the start of the Lower House process. In this regard, I welcome the announcement of the electoral schedule for the Somaliland seats.
Going forward, I urge leaders to prioritize the full implementation of the Electoral Agreement; to establish concrete mechanisms to implement the 30 percent quota; and to strengthen efforts for women’s protection from violence. This includes equal access to justice for all women.
Somalis cannot move their country forward and build trust in institutions and elections without women’s equal participation. Inclusive elections will lay the foundations for a resilient, sustainable, inclusive country.
I made this second visit to Somalia because women’s political participation is a game changer in our efforts to achieve sustainable peace, development, and more resilient and inclusive societies.
Women’s participation and representation in political life is a precondition for lasting peace in Somalia. The 30 per cent quota is a crucial first step towards the equal representation of women in all sectors of life, from business to public service, elections to appointments.
As one federal state woman minister noted, women in Somalia account for over 50 per cent of the population, and as such, the 30 per cent quota is just the beginning. This was echoed by a member of the State Election Implementation Team who observed that the parliament is called the Peoples’ House, and as such, it should reflect that half of those people are women.
I would like to share with you the appeal I heard from many of Somalia’s leaders, for the international community to keep up our sustained focus, support, and partnership.
The United Nations Mission and Country Team are committed to ensuring this, with your support.
With these efforts, I am confident that Somalia will continue to move forward.
I hope to return to see the progress and meet the new Parliament – with a minimum of 30 per cent women representatives – in the near future.