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POGAR > Countries > Country Theme: Gender: Somalia
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Conditions of Women

The civil war and continuing absence of a central government have had a devastating impact on Somalia and its female citizens. Women and children were frequently victims of clan violence during the war, with the most recent reports of attacks directed against women occuring in Baidoa in December 2003. The destruction of the national infrastructure continues to plague Somalia with hunger, disease, and poverty. UNICEF has estimated that one million people, primarily women and children, are at risk of starvation in Somalia today.

The question of women’s participation in the workforce is largely secondary to the question of national economic development. The lack of infrastructure, investment, rampant unemployment, and environmental degradation are severe barriers to economic recovery. Women currently comprise about 43 percent of the workforce.

Somali women also have a high total fertility rate (births per woman) of 7.2. The lack of public services including health care, education, and clean drinking water has had severe impact on child health and has led to a high child mortality rate. Somalia has among the lowest literacy rates in the world, with 26 percent female and 50 percent male literacy in 2001. The absence of governmental institutions results in a primary school enrollment rate of about 20 percent, and about 48 percent of all primary students are girls, despite the fact that women make up 65 percent of the population as a whole.

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Law of Personal Status

The legal status of women in Somalia is currently dictated by the pre-war civil and criminal code, but these laws have not been enforced for a decade. The Somali Constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex. Under the personal status code, however, women are entitled to half of the inheritance of their brothers. Some Muslims have been resistant to women entering the public sphere.

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Gender Reforms

Women have played an increased role in the efforts to achieve peace and rebuild Somalia. In 2000, all of the Somali clans met in Djibouti and devised a transition government. Women hold 25 seats in the 245-member Transitional National Assembly (TNA). Seats in the Assembly were distributed to provide parity between competing clans. Each of the four major clans is represented by five women, while the five remaining women are from minor clans. These women have formed a bloc to represent female interests across clan lines. The transitional federal parliament that will soon replace the TNA provides for 12 percent of its 275 members to be women. The Transitional National Government has consistently had two female ministers since its creation in 2000, despite having been reformed twice. Three women have announced their candidacy for president when the transitional federal parliament holds its elections for the position, presumably in 2004; the most prominent among them is Asha Abdalla, former Minister of Demobilization, Disarmament, Reintegration and Disabled Care and a delegate to the Nairobi peace conference. In the breakaway republic of Somaliland, the Minister of Foreign Affairs is a woman.

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Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)

Somalia is not a signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

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Social Forces

Although women have been largely excluded from public positions of power, many groups have actively pursued peace. The Voice of Somali Women for Peace, Reconciliation and Political Rights is a Somali-based NGO that works on the international level to improve the status of Somali women. Several women’s groups in Hargeisa have worked to satisfy the needs of women and children. These women’s groups have been hampered by the lack of a national communications infrastructure and the difficulty of coordinating efforts under such conditions. Four major networks of women’s organizations comprise 90 percent of Somalia’s women’s groups; they include the Coalition of Grassroots Women's Organization (COGWO), IIDA Women's Development Organization, We Are Women Activists (WAWA) and NAGAAD. In March 2004, these four launched a nationwide campaign against female genital mutilation (FGM), which is almost universally practiced in Somalia.

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