A political party fair opens doors for young women in Somalia

Tihana Bartulac Blanc and Christopher Smyser

March 30, 2020

The political party fair described in this story occurred in October, 2019. 

Somali elected official Farhia Mohamud walked up to the political party fair registration table using her crutches. As the first disabled member of the SAMO Political Party, her presence—and the event she attended—would have been unimaginable a generation ago in a country beset by violent extremism, poverty and political unrest.

But a recent Political Party Fair, launched by the Bringing Unity, Integrity, and Legitimacy to Democracy (BUILD) project in Somalia, heralds the beginning of a new age for female political participation in the East African country. The fair brought together female political party representatives who’ve served in the Somali government and in different parties with young women aspiring to enter the political sphere.

Implemented by Creative Associates International, in partnership with BBC Media Action and the International Republican Institute, BUILD is a U.S. Agency for International Development-funded project that supports civil society in Somalia as it seeks to improve women’s ability to foster community engagement and to enhance women’s political participation.

A young woman participates in a BUILD activity on message development in Somalia.

Expanding young women’s horizons

BUILD awarded in 2019 a grant to the Somali organization, Women Pioneers for Peace and Life (HINNA), which specifically targets the gender disparity gap in governance by helping young women become more active in political processes. Through teaching them about political participation, including how to join political parties, HINNA’s work prepares and equips women to take on future leadership positions, eventually leading to a more gender balanced legislative body in Somalia.

HINNA organized the Political Party Fair with Creative’s support through BUILD, and the event was attended by all provisionally registered political parties in Somalia, as well as the young women. One of the event’s goals was to establish linkages between the parties and women interested in opportunities to engage and join.

Fair attendee Anisa Abdullahi Ahmed expressed her gratitude at having the chance to take part in her country’s political processes.

“I am so excited that my dream to join a political party is finally coming true,” said Ahmed.

The fair offered ample opportunities for young women to meet with potential role models. Farhia Osman Hassan from the Justice and Development Party was there to mentor young women on political party membership and political engagement, while working to recruit them as new members for her party.

Also at the fair, another prominent elected official Fatima Abdullahi Hussein, Secretary General of the XIIS Political Party, echoed many women’s sentiment saying that if women are not permitted and encouraged to join political parties and if young girls are not exposed to politics at an earlier age, the road to basic human rights will remain out of reach for many Somalis.

“If women and young girls do not join political parties, women will not get equal rights to men and basic human rights will not be available,” said Fatima Abdullahi Hussein, the secretary general of the party XIIS.

That’s why HINNA’s work is necessary in Somalia’s context. Somalia scores low on most political development indicators, suffering from poor governance, protracted internal conflict, underdevelopment, economic decline and social and gender inequality.

In particular, there are steep cultural barriers for women and youth’s participation in all aspects of society, including political representation. And the lack of active recruitment efforts targeting women seeking to join political parties makes change in this area difficult.

Local partners lead the charge

Working with local partners like HINNA is key to BUILD’s efforts to empower a new generation of Somali female politicians. Through the fair and other workshops, HINNA has reached one hundred women seeking a role in the elections as political party candidates.

As students, persons with disabilities, and internally displaced persons, the women HINNA works with come from a wide range of backgrounds. Through its events, the organization conducted capacity building sessions to raise awareness about women’s participation, and organized mentoring sessions to introduce the participants to some of Somalia’s high-profile women politicians, including current members of parliament.

As the next election cycle looms and unrest continues to shake the country, initiatives like this are moving the needle for women’s rights.

“We will continue looking for ways to collaborate with our Somali partners, ensuring that amidst uncertain times we continue to give women every opportunity to make a difference in their society,” said Rudi Elbling, BUILD’s Chief of Party.

With editing by Janey Fugate.


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