Women’s rights are a prominent issue in Somaliland, consequently drawing global interest from many states and organisations concerned about the implications for women in Somaliland. It is important to note that the social and cultural norms of Somaliland are a powerful factor contributing to the issues relating to women’s rights.
The rights of women can be found in Article 36 of the Somaliland Constitution.
Article 36: The Rights of Women
1. The rights, freedoms and duties laid down in the Constitution are to be enjoyed equally by men and women save for matters which are specifically ordained in Islamic Sharia.
2. The Government shall encourage, and shall legislate for, the right of women to be free of practices which are contrary to Sharia and which are injurious to their person and dignity.
3. Women have the right to own, manage, oversee, trade in, or pass on property in accordance with the law.
4. In order to raise the level of education and income of women, and also the welfare of the family, women shall have the right to have extended to them education in home economics and to have opened for them vocational, special skills and adult education schools.
Crucially, Article 36(2) suggests the requirement of further legislation to be enacted to protect the rights of women. Nonetheless, the Constitution states that legislation concerning women’s rights is yet to be created. This suggests a need for further action from the Somaliland government in protecting the rights of women. Significantly, it must be noted that in relation to international treaties, Article 10(1) and Article 10(2) of the Constitution confirm that Somaliland is party to the same international agreements as Somalia and recognises international law enacted by the UN including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Violence Against Women and Girls:
FGM is a major concern in the international community and several initiatives exist to combat its prevalence. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 5.3 aims to ‘Eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage, and female genital mutilation’. Nonetheless, there is currently no legislation in Somaliland that directly prohibits FGM. Rather, Articles within the Constitution may be considered as prohibitions to FGM. For example, Article 24 The Right to Life, Security of the Person, Respect for Reputation and Crimes against Human Rights, touches upon torture and mutilation in 24(4). Article 36 which directly relates to the rights of women may be applicable, however, again there is no direct prohibition.
Despite the possibilities to apply existing Articles, the lack of direct legislation continues to have a deep impact on the continued practice of FGM. Significantly, in 2018 The Ministry of Religious Affairs of the Government of Somaliland issued a fatwa which prohibited the severe practices of FGM. This is a positive action from the Somaliland Government. Significantly, the issuing of a fatwa addresses the religious implications associated with FGM suggesting there is to be no link between religious beliefs and attitudes and the procedures of severe FGM. Nonetheless, this is not legislation and importantly, this does not ban all forms of FGM, namely one of the most common practices, Type 1 FGM, which is the least severe.
The confusion, as well as issues that occur in relation to FGM, demonstrate that to achieve the ambition of ending FGM, direct legislation prohibiting the severe practices is a necessity. Nevertheless, the international effort witnessed through the UN Sustainable Development Goal 5.3 as well as Resolution 75/160, ‘Intensifying global efforts for the elimination of female genital mutilation’, continue to aid the push to end FGM.
Additionally, there are many organisations that provide information and guidance in this area such as the Nagaad Network and the Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa Network.
Gender-based Violence including Sexual Gender-based Violence
In situations concerning rape and domestic abuse, fear plays a vital role in preventing women from achieving justice. A significant cause of this fear is a result of traditional methods of resolving rape cases, this typically involves prominent male figures resolving the case outside of the courts, with permission from judges, in order to reach an agreement with the family of the victim. Undoubtedly, this lacks sensitivity towards victims thus making it a difficult process for women to experience. Additionally, this method of informal resolution limits the opportunities for women to utilise legal platforms and achieve justice for themselves. Consequently, this continues the unequal approach towards women as it is preferable for families to reach agreements with offenders rather than appropriate legal punishment decided by the courts. It may be argued that as a result of this informal process, the severity of domestic abuse and rape is downplayed due to the ease of which offenders do not need to face legal punishment. Therefore, the lack of appropriate punishment for perpetrators is significant when discussing the increase of rape cases in Somaliland, including gang rape and murder.
A serious halt in the progression of women’s rights has occurred through the introduction of the Rape, Fornication and Other Related Offences Bill. The Rape, Fornication and Other Related Offences Bill has been condemned in a joint statement by several human rights organisations. Identified as significant issues include the lack of support and protection for victims, inappropriate punishment for offenders including the opportunities to resolve cases informally in traditional forms.
Unfortunately, this Bill will act as a serious barrier to women’s rights in Somaliland. Crucial changes need to be made to the Rape, Fornication and Other Related Offences Bill that fall closer in line to the draft Sexual Offences Bill. Through the efforts of local and international organisations, as well as a push from the international community, it may be possible to achieve these necessary changes. Nonetheless, Article 36 of the Constitution is still applicable in cases of rape, sexual assault and domestic abuse, alongside other fundamental articles such as Article 24.
Political representation of women will have the opportunity to influence the factors previously mentioned such as vital legislation required to protect women’s rights. Women’s access to politics is challenging as a result of the lack of financial resources and the exclusivity of the political arena. Although, gradually increasing, political participation remains low for example, ‘there is only one female minister out of 28 and only two members of parliament out of 86’. These low numbers provide an explanation as to why there is such a reluctance from the government, once in power, to provide national legislation to protect women’s rights. Arguably, political representation of women in Somaliland will be a catalyst for the improvement of women’s rights. Political representation will demonstrate a drastic change in the way in which women are viewed, for example it indicates that women have the capabilities to firstly work and most significantly, to hold positions of power and importance. If political representation can change and influence the way in which women are perceived, it is possible it may also have a positive effect on the creation of legislation to protect women’s rights. This may result from several factors such as, an increased understanding of the importance of women’s rights, a direct push for legislation from women within the political environment as well as a more open approach within society to female equality.
Certain organisations provide information and aid in relation to political representation these include, the Nagaad Network and the Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa Network.