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Experience file

Emeline FERRIER, Marie-Claire MENTION, Marion REGAT, Miranda SHUSTERMAN, Grenoble, April 2013

Dialogue for Peace Somali Programm

The work of the Center for Research and Dialogue and Interpeace in South Central Somalia

Keywords: | Security and peace | Women and peace | Somalia

Since 1991 and the collapse of the Siad Barre regime, the Somali region has been without a functioning government and has entered in 2011 its third decade of crisis. This article focuses on South-Central Somalia, where conflicts between clans rage since decolonization but which have increased in intensity under the rule of Siad Barre. They have had dramatic consequences for the population: displacement, poverty, famine, widespread youth unemployment, violation of Human Rights, etc. In response to these challenges, the Center for Research and Dialogue (CRD) and Interpeace in Somalia have implemented the Dialogue for Peace program which aims at facilitating dialogue between clans.

CRD’s activities include:

  • Collaborative problem-solving achieved through genuine dialogue

  • Consolidation of ‘neutral spaces’, which means, safe spaces in which people can express their opinions without fear of retribution. These are established at the national, sub-national and local levels

  • Timely dialogue around sensitive national and sub-national issues that include key, and often opposing, stakeholders and deal-makers

  • The empowerment of a critical mass of Somali people in order to develop initiatives for action on key issues of political and social reconciliation and reconstruction both during and beyond the life of the Pillars of Peace project

  • Concrete contributions made to peace- and statebuilding in the Somali region, specifically through focused attention on democratization, decentralization, security sector development (PDRC), the strengthening of civic actors (CRD) and social reconciliation

  • Enhancing peacebuilding capacity of civil society and community leaders as well as women, youth and minorities/ marginalized groups.

“The Dialogue for Peace” program seeks to contribute to establishing a relative stability by facilitating dialogue between clans through the empowerment of marginalized citizens as key players in the peace-building process. The place special emphasis on the role of women can play herein.

Advancing the Involvement of Women in Peace-building in South-Central Somalia

CRD has implemented several projects within the overall program “Dialogue for Peace-Pioneers of Peace” with the help of local civil society organizations and women’s groups in order to promote women as key players in the establishment of a long lasting peace in Somalia.

A. The role of women in war, conflict resolution and transformation

The long-lasting civil war in Somalia has had a tremendous impact on the family structure and has fundamentally changed the roles and responsibilities of each family member. Although protected by Somali religious and cultural rules, women have been subject to a lot of violence: the increasing clashes between clans have thus jeopardized their role as the backbone of the family. Tensions between clans have also forced people and women particularly to seek the protection of their clans and therefore to the separation of families. Women have seen their roles changing during the civil war as they became the main source of income for their family, for example through runing small businesses. Their social status however has not really improved and their participation in decision-making processes is still very marginal. Men in Somalia continue to dominate society. Women are dependent on interpretations of sharia law and very often unaware of their rights.

As a result of women’s connection with both their clan of birth and their clan of marriage, women have a unique role to play in peace-building. They maintain strong relationships with the clan of their mother, relatives as well as the clan of their father. Thus enabling them to go from one clan to the other. This ability to cross clan lines has allowed them to play a crucial part in the promotion of peace-building that is to say in advocating reconciliation between clans.

Women are considered to be more neutral and disinterested mediators than men, addressing the causes and consequences of the clashes between the different clans as well as the need of their communities. They have organized demonstrations and lobby and mediation operations between the different stakeholders.

B. Implementation of the intervention : stakeholders and activities

To implement its program “Dialogue for Peace”, the Center for Research and Dialogue has carried out many conflict-mapping operations and research about the changing function of women that is to say their increasing role in the economic, political and social spheres in the post-conflict context. The research insisted on the challenges and opportunities faced by women and the need to incorporate gender issues in peace-building efforts.

During the preparation stage, consultations took place between the different stakeholders stressing the importance of women and the necessity to include them in the Dialogue for Peace program at the national, subnational and local levels.

Stakeholders in the Dialogue for Peace program:

  • Clan representatives

  • Civil society (local women’s groups, umbrella organizations such as COGWO)

  • CRD

  • Faction leaders

  • Militias

  • Government representatives

  • Civilian population

Milestones of CRD’s work in South-Central Somalia

The Center for Research and Dialogue has implemented, thanks to the involvement of the civil society, numerous programs and projects, all focusing on promoting dialogue between the different key players in the conflict. There is a strong relationship between the CRD and women’s groups. The latter were invited to participate in all activities including workshops, seminars, public forums and training programs.

Security and Peace-Building in Mogadishu

Since 2003, CRD has been working with the help of the local community to address security problems in the city of Mogadishu. One of the major issues was the increasing number of kidnappings targeting not only foreigners but also local Somalis. In January 2003, CRD organized the “Kidnapping Forum” to tackle the issue. Local leaders, police officers, members of the Islamic Courts as well as leading women’s groups and civil society organizations all participated to this forum. Women played a crucial part in this process by putting pressure on those behind the kidnappings.

2003 saw the arrival of the “Neighbourhood Watch Scheme”, a CRD and COGWO (The Coalition for Grassroots Women’s Organizations) initiative. Members of women’s groups, district commissioners, Human Right and Youth activists, religious leaders and militia leaders all received training in conflict resolution, peace-building and advocacy. The goal was to create a “peace army” composed of more than 750 women peace activists later joined by civic organizations, to establish a network of 13 neighbourhood watches in Mogadishu, thus creating a community-based security structure to improve “street-level” security.

The Mogadishu Security and Stabilisation Plan (MSSP), 2005

This plan aimed at improving the overall security in the city of Mogadishu. This process required the involvement of those engaged in the “Neighbourhood Watch” because of their experience, their credibility and their success in mobilizing public support. A workshop was organized in April 2005 and resulted in drafting a consensual “Mogadishu Security and Stabilization Plan” (MSSP).

The high-profile “Mogadishu Forum”, June 2005

Held in June under the title “it’s too late to wait, we must stand together”, this consultative meeting aimed at enhancing security in Mogadishu with the support of civil society organizations across the capital city. It was the first gathering of this kind which attracted senior politicians, faction leaders, civic activists, women’s networks and businessmen. This consensus-oriented approach was meant to back the development of the MSSP through a comprehensive public awareness-raising. All the key players sat together to discuss the long-term security of their city.

Women played a crucial role in this process by providing shelter, food and civic education for militia leaders in camps and by mobilizing support for the MSSP from the business sector. They also exerted pressure on faction leaders and offered moral support to individual members.

Within the global program “Dialogue for Peace”, women participated in numerous forums on peace-building, reconciliation between clans, sustainable peace and women’s role in politics. They were also provided with special trainings on participatory action among others. Regarding the effectiveness of women’s groups in building peace in South-central Somalia, their achievements are numerous:

  • restraining the proliferation of guns

  • promoting the role of the civil society in peace-building activities

  • providing alternative education and income opportunities for teenager boys enrolled in militias

  • fire-fighting role to avoid armed conflicts

  • providing moral and practical support to the reconciliation process between clans in South-Central Somalia

  • mediation

  • mobilization of local communities to build peace

  • inter-clan reconciliation

The impact of CRD’s work on the causes and consequences of the conflict.

The Pioneers for Peace program tackles both the causes and consequences of inter-clan conflict. Women have continued to committ themsleves to mediation as a result of their traditional peace-making roles, mobilization of local communities for peace as well as the provision of practical and financial support for the inter-clan reconciliation process, which was crucial. In addition to their tradition role, they also initiated creative new approaches and community-based processes to address crimes and insecurity as well as the need of the most marginalized groups, what led to a certain transformation of the conflict. Through films which were mainly focused on women challenges, women could inform and stimulate discussions, which was a dynamic way to communicate new ideas and research findings. Moreover, in a society with a large focus on oral transmission, CRD established close ties with radio stations.

By 2005, concerning the matter of security in the capital, the NGW and thus women leaders have gained in credibility. As a result, at the occasion of a workshop to consider a regional civic security network, women’s leaders were invited together with political and civic leaders to design a consensual Security and Stabilisation Plan. Later, even members of the Transitional Federal Parliament attended. At the end of the several workshops, significant recommandations for the city authorities were drafted. During the Mogadishiu Forum one month later, all the stakeholders (political, opinion-makers, civil society) could attend to build a consensus. It resulted in groundbreaking decisions such as to clear roadblocks, develop MMSP and include all the stakeholders in the development of public awareness. The forum was broadcast so it could be followed and thus supported by a widespread public.

As a result, checkpoints were dismanteled leading to a big change in the city and to free movement. However these events have no impact on a national political level and do not resolve the differences within the TFG. The assassination of CRD’s director in 2005 stressed that instability and insecurity are a lasting problem. Concerning women’s mobilization, it is important to notice that they were also active in other local conflicts between clans, as in Mudu and Galgadug in 2006. Indeed, they organized groundbreaking meetings between local elders and militia and, in these latter’s opinion, there was thus an immediate positive impact, with notable reduction of confrontations and revenge killings. They were also responsible for the re-opening of the Benadir Mother’s and Children’s hospital, which was the largest government one prior to the state collapse in 1991.

Limits to women’s contribution to peacebuilding and the roles they can play in society

Despite the acchievements that have been described above, women’s contribution to building peace in Somalia is limited on account of several obstacles:

  • Their role within the Somali society is restricted owing to the male domination of the society. Men are still controlling the key sectors of the economy and are predominantly represented in the political sphere.

  • Women are facing greater challenges in gaining fuller representation in the political decision-making process. Women are still appointed by men and the quotas agreed upon have not yet been met, contributing to their marginalization in the political life. Their affiliation to several clans may be an advantage in conflict resolution but in political decision-making it has contributed to even more exclusion. There is no text stating clearly that women should not hold high-level political positions. However some Muslim scholars restrict the role of women in the public life on account of several reasons: women’s moral vulnerability, women as a source of temptation and of social discord.

  • The clan-based system does not provide women with the right to hold public office or any formal role in a traditional assembly. The major issue being for women to decide whether to represent their clan, the clan of their mother, father or husband. This exclusion of women from participating in the political sphere is therefore based on the belief that they would face a true conflict of interests.

  • Women are very much dependant on the interpretation of both the customary law and the Islamic law. Although both laws underline the role of women in the society that is to say in the economic, social and political spheres, women are often unaware of their rights, have a limited or no access to them and finally are often subjected to a very strict interpretation by men of the Sharia Law.

  • In conflict women may be partial or act as passive bystanders. There are many examples of women encouraging husbands to fight in order to defend their family, their community and their clan. Others have allowed the conflict to endure by mobilising funds, feeding and taking care of the fighters. They also have encouraged violence against other clan women thus perpetuating divisions and conflicts.

  • Women-based initiatives have also been critized on account of their link and partnerships with international organizations.

  • Women are also confronted with limited educational opportunities and economic resources. Opportunities for adult education are very rare and inaccessible for women. Moreover girls beyond the age of nine no longer attend school. Besides the access to education should also be a priority for boys and men. The high unemployement rate among men in Somalia has impacted on the family structure, weakening their role and identity and exerting even more pressure on women.

Linkage to other initiatives at different levels (Lederach’s Pyramid):

The figure below demonstrates the connection between CRD’s work and initiatives of other actors such as the UN, the European Commission but also that of grass-roots organisations. This figure is based on a tool developed bu Paul Lederach, also called the Lederach’s pyramid which stresses the importance of creating linkages between the different initiatives addressing conflict situations.

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