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Somalia: Briefing by the Deputy Secretary-General on Women’s Political Participation

This afternoon (28 September), the Security Council will convene for a briefing on Somalia which will focus on women, peace and security. Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed will brief on her 12 September visit to Somalia to promote increased women’s participation in political life, including in the upcoming parliamentary elections. A Somali civil society representative is also expected to brief.

Mohammed has briefed Council members on issues relating to women, peace and security in country-specific situations on several occasions. These included briefings on her 21-26 October 2019 joint UN-AU mission to the Horn of Africa and her 19-28 July 2017 visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Nigeria. Today’s meeting is also consistent with the commitment of this month’s Council president Ireland and upcoming presidents Kenya (October) and Mexico (November) to make women, peace and security a key focus of their presidencies, including through enhanced integration of women, peace and security issues in country-specific discussions on the Council’s agenda. In this regard, Ireland, Kenya and Mexico have released a “statement of shared commitments” on women, peace and security for September, October and November. Among these commitments, they agreed to make women, peace and security “an explicit focus of at least one mandated geographic meeting of the Council over the three months”.

The aim of Mohammed’s 12 September visit was to support increased women’s participation in Somalia’s political life and electoral processes, including the achievement of a minimum 30 percent women’s quota in Somalia’s parliament, based on a commitment made by the Somali government in the 17 September 2020 electoral agreement. During her visit, Mohammed expressed concern about “the overall situation of Somali women, including levels of violence and insecurity for women, and how this also impacts participation in political life”. She further stressed the importance of “women’s full inclusion in all sectors of society” towards strengthened “resilience, peace, and stability” in Somalia. During today’s meeting, Mohammed and Council members are likely to encourage efforts by Somalia to reach the 30 percent quota in the upcoming elections. The country’s 329-member bicameral parliament currently comprises 24 percent women.

Somalia’s leaders have reaffirmed the importance of reaching the 30 percent quota on several occasions. In a January statement, Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble committed to reserving one-third of parliamentary seats for women, and during a meeting held between 22 and 27 May, the Somalia National Consultative Council (NCC)—a forum comprised of representatives from federal government and Somalia’s federal member states—echoed that commitment.

Mohammed is likely to provide her assessment of the government’s efforts to promote greater inclusivity in the electoral process. She may describe her meetings with President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed “Farmaajo”, Prime Minister Roble, and representatives of the NCC. She is also likely to brief on her discussions with civil society actors, such as Somali elders, and with women leaders from a broad range of areas, including from electoral management bodies.

The effects of violence and insecurity on women’s ability to participate in the political and electoral processes is another likely focus of today’s meeting. Mohammed’s visit took place shortly after the disappearance of Ikran Tahlil Farah, a woman cybersecurity expert who worked for Somalia’s National Intelligence and Security Agency. Disagreements over the investigation into Tahlil’s disappearance have exacerbated tensions between Farmaajo and Roble. On 17 September, Council members convened for closed consultations to discuss the potential effects of the political tensions on the electoral process in Somalia. In an 18 September press statement, Council members expressed concern about the ongoing disagreements within the Somali Government, urged all stakeholders to exercise restraint and underlined the importance of maintaining peace, security and stability in Somalia. At today’s meeting, Mohammed and Council members may also reference the 25 September suicide bombing in Mogadishu, which was attributed to Al-Shabaab and claimed the lives of at least eight people, including Hibaq Abukar, who was a human rights and women’s affairs advisor in the prime minister’s office.

Several members are expected to underscore the need for full, equal and meaningful participation of women in the electoral process and call on the Somali authorities to facilitate the safety and security of women running for office. Council members are likely to reiterate their calls for the holding of peaceful, transparent, inclusive and credible elections. The country commenced its delayed lower house elections in July. Somali authorities have postponed the upper house elections to a date between 1 October and 20 November, and have yet to announce a date for the presidential polls.

Today’s Council briefing follows the 30 June meeting of the Informal Experts Group on Women and Peace and Security (IEG), which focused on Somalia. Special Representative for Somalia and head of the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) James Swan and Special Representative of the Chairperson of the AU Commission (SRCC) for Somalia and head of the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) Francisco Madeira briefed at the meeting. This was the IEG’s first meeting on Somalia and was apparently part of a concerted effort by Ireland and Mexico, the IEG’s co-chairs, to expand the range of country situations receiving the group’s attention.

During the 30 June IEG meeting, members discussed previous Somali electoral processes, the 30 percent quota for women’s participation in the current electoral cycle, mechanisms to prevent harassment and violence against politically active women during the electoral period, and the increase in cases of conflict-related sexual violence in Somalia, among other issues. At today’s meeting, Council members may reference the IEG’s discussions and the recommendations put forward by UN Women during that meeting. These included calling on the Somali authorities to implement the 30 percent quota, to guarantee the safety of women candidates, and to finalise a national action plan on women, peace and security.

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