Mogadishu — The Somali Ministry of Development and Social Affairs is drafting a bill that outlines a new gender policy for the country and safeguards women's rights, particularly in politics and education.
The proposed legislation is part of a wide-ranging government programme that aims to promote women's rights and support their access to education, health services and participation in governance.
While 30% of parliament is supposed to be reserved for women, women make up less than 16% of the current parliament. Under the proposed law, those seats would remain exclusive to women and would be kept vacant even if there are not enough women candidates to fill them, said Mohamed Omar, director-general of the women's department in the Ministry of Development and Social Affairs.
In addition, the bill calls for quotas in other government branches and guarantees that 60% of free education recipients would be women.
The bill's first draft is complete and is undergoing revisions based on consultations with civil society and other stakeholders, according to Omar. In September, the ministry will present the bill to the cabinet for approval, which will then send it on to parliament for deliberation and voting, he said.
The Gender Unit of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) are helping to craft Somalia's new national gender policy through technical support and funding.
In June, AMISOM held a four-day seminar in Kampala, Uganda on how to best implement gender-related policies. The seminar brought together experts from troop contributing nations, civil society groups, government officials and other stakeholders.
UNDP also has partnered with the ministry to fund a comprehensive public awareness campaign on women's rights and for establishing safeguards for their political participation.
"This campaign will run for the next five years and we will continue until women have a visible role in politics," Omar said.
Under the campaign, the ministry will make women's rights courses compulsory at national universities, starting in 2014. "We will hold advisory panels that will include university students and teachers to educate the public on the rights of women," he told Sabahi.
In addition, the government plans to open facilities for women with disabilities that will provide healthcare and other services, he said.
What women say
Some Somali women, however, remain unconvinced that they will get their full share of rights, said Ayaan Adam Hareyd, a former member of Puntland's regional parliament.
"I heartily welcome any system that will advocate for the rights of women, even though I am very sceptical that things will be implemented as they should," she told Sabahi. "I have participated in meetings about how to protect the rights of women many times and nothing came out of them. Therefore, I think this is all just talk and women's rights will be denied when it is time for action."
The first thing that has to be done is to educate the public and correct the problem of undervaluing women, said Shamso Liban, a 32-year-old nurse who graduated from Mogadishu University in 2010.
"It is important to bring traditional elders and religious leaders together to convince them of the necessity of giving women their rights. Then they can educate the public that Islam does not deny women the right to participate in any kind of public service," she told Sabahi.
The appointment of Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Fowsiyo Yusuf Haji Aadan shows progress and hope for greater women's rights, said Naima Jama, a 25-year-old business management student at SIMAD University.
"I did not think this would happen in Somalia and I would urge anyone engaged in the efforts to protect women's rights to continue their efforts to protect them in a big way," she told Sabahi. "Today our country needs a mother to nurture it like a new-born child, and women are the only ones who can understand that."