In the framework of UNPO’s Campaign “Unrepresented Women”, the floor is given to activists, artists and public figures coming from unrepresented communities around the world. In this context, we are honored to be publishing a piece by Ms Edna Adan Ismail, the only woman minister in the Somalilander government until 2006. Ms Ismail is a midwife, a former foreign minister and minister of family welfare and social development. She founded the Edna Adan Maternity Hospital in Hargeisa where she is advocating for the abolition of female genital mutilation. Ms Ismail wrote the following article, on the importance of women’s involvement in peace making in Somaliland.
The piece below was written by Ms Edna Adan Ismail:
Women in peacebuilding is very important. The women of Somaliland have already been engaged in peacebuilding. I remember the time after we separated from Somalia in 1991; there were a lot of young militia that came into Somaliland with a lot of weapons and tanks. The young men were harassing women in the markets, pointing guns at them and taking their stuff. This happened a couple of times. The women got together, surrounded one of the tanks and said to the youth ‘As your mothers, we brought you to this world, we brought you up, we carried you on our backs, we escaped with you to flee the bombs, we took you to refugee camps, we looked after you all these years. Is all you can do now is point your guns at us? We did not save your lives so that one day you would point your guns at us and loot our vegetables or shoot us.” The women then surrounded the tank and pushed it off the pier and into the sea. They then warned the men, “If you ever point your guns at us again, we will push every single one of your tanks and guns into the sea just like we did with this one.” That brought more peace among the youth until the government of Somaliland imposed a total demobilization of the militia.
Then came the adults. There was a lot of fighting between clans and regions. There was a demonstration in 1992 in which women marched down the streets of Hargeisa. The women said to the men, “We were with you in the bush when you were Freedom Fighters, we looked after your sick, we treated the wounded, we fed you, we sold our clothes, our jewels and whatever valuables we escaped with, so that we could afford medicine for you. We now demand a ceasefire today. Not tomorrow. If we don’t have a jointly signed ceasefire today, we will stay in the streets for as long as it takes.” A ceasefire was signed that very day and that ceasefire holds from 1992 to this day.
There are other ways in which women engage in the peacebuilding process. Somaliland is a country that enjoys free, fair and peaceful presidential elections. Women confront Somaliland’s political parties. They send delegations to the leaders of political parties stating, ‘If your party respects the rights of women, then that is the party we will give our votes to.’ So, today, peacebuilding is not only achieved through marches and petitions but also through political pressure on the parties. Women are involved in peacebuilding and peacekeeping in Somaliland. I know of no better way to achieve stability.
A very important factor is the content of the Constitution of Somaliland which gives equal rights to men and women in Somaliland. It is up to women to quote the Constitution if their rights have not been granted. More women must stand as candidates in regional and national elections and take part in decision-making processes. Women must continue to put pressure on political parties. There are more women who are educated now, who are vocal, confident, speak well and their numbers need to increase. I am delighted to see that there are more women who partake in and set up organisations such as the Somaliland Women Lawyers Association and the Somaliland Female Doctor’s Organisation to name a few. All of these will put pressure on the community. In addition to academia, more women are taking part in cultural events such as the Hargeisa International Marathon which gives visibility to women. It is without a doubt that women play a huge role in peacebuilding and peacekeeping, an example which can be seen in Somaliland and throughout the world.