Women in Puntland demand greater role in government

Women in the self-declared autonomous region of Puntland, north-eastern Somalia, are calling for greater representation in the region's parliament in the upcoming elections to reflect their role in society.

Asha Gelle, the Puntland Minister of Women and Family Affairs, told IRIN on 3 December that women were demanding "to be represented at the table where decisions are made. This time around we want to make sure that our rights and interests are represented."

She said at present there were five women among 66 MPs. "There are fears among women that even that small number may disappear."

Puntland MPs are selected by traditional elders and since women are not included in the elders’ council, "women's interests are not always heard; we are not there so we cannot make our case”.

The Puntland constitution stipulates that 30 percent of all government positions be filled by women, but that has not been fully implemented, said Gelle.

She said women's representation in parliament should be increased "to between 15 and 20 members".

Hawa Yusuf, a women's activist, said women had carried the greatest burden of Somali society throughout the civil war. "We are the ones who care for the weak and the dispossessed and displaced," she told IRIN. "Today more women are breadwinners." It would be unfair to deny the women their rights of political participation at this stage, she added.

"We are not lobbying only for the women's percentage in parliament, but we are advocating for a package for women's inclusion in every aspect and level of the new government."

She said women should be treated as individuals and not as members of clans. If women were treated as part of the clan, she said, "Men will never give the rightful share to women. I am not part of my father's clan or part of my husband's clan. We should be treated as a separate constituency."

Abdishakur Mire Aden, a former Puntland deputy minister of information, agreed that women deserved better representation. "For now we should make sure that the five members who are now in parliament should be returned."

The selection of MPs in Puntland is expected to conclude on 30 December, to be followed on 8 January by the election of president by parliament.