OP-ED: Between the Facts and Rumors of Somalia’s Gender Bill

Screen shot 2016-08-02 at 12.08.40 AM2 August 2016 – A few days after the Baidoa Consultation Conference, an octogenarian Somali lady asked me, furrowing her eyebrows, if I heard the outcome of the conference.

Out of curiosity, I said “no” and asked her to tell me what was agreed upon. I thought she was going to say something about the selection of elders and the upcoming general [s]election process — until, livid with rage — she started ranting about Somali leaders promoting homosexuality and same-sex marriage in Somalia.  If profanity could kill, the words she uttered would have been brought a political apocalypse to Somalia.

Somalis have mastered the art of spreading propaganda and they can change your mind completely by feeding you all sorts of propaganda similar to the U.S. Creel Committee in World War I, which succeeded in turning a pacifist population into a hysterical, war-mongering population bent on saving the world.

The rumors of LBGT advocacy in Somalia turned many die-hard anti-Islamist Somalis into hardcore Salafist idealogues who were — at least rhetorically — ready to battle ministers who brought the bill out of the cabinet.

The Patriarchal World

One of the longest struggles in contemporary history has been that of women for equality in a conservative and patriarchal world. While Somali women are part of this millennial struggle, fear of being branded as an LGBT advocate by the Sheikhs is a huge stumbling block.

As a result, Somali women are embarking on uncharted territory, and the challenges they face are enormous.

Preaching gender equality in a country like Somalia, which was cut off from the rest of world for the two and half decades, is a herculean task. Gender equality (which is not always easy to translate in Somalia) not only sounds bizarre to conservative Somali men — it is also difficult to grasp for some Somali women who stayed after the civil war and grew up in male-dominated environment.

That is why most of the women who are campaigning for gender equality are Diaspora who were educated and grew up in a more liberal society.

If Somali women want to free themselves from the iron fist of conservative Somali men, they should brace themselves for a formidable resistance and persevere. Remember — even the U.S and the world largest government in the UN have yet to be graced with a female leader. Nothing worth having comes easy.

Inside the Controversial Bill

The foreward of the bill clearly states that the benchmark of the bill is Islamic Shari’a, international conventions and the constitution of the country. Clearly, the sheikh who quickly labelled the bill as un-Islamic did not read it.

Nevertheless, when the text of the gender bill was published, rumors began swirling that Somali politicians were advocating for same-sex marriage and other issues Somalis consider taboo, such as marriage without the consent of the parents and giving women the power to file divorce.

Rather, the bill was advocating for political, economic and social freedom for women.

It states that women should be given a chance to contribute politically in nation-building and that the 30% participation rule should be effectively implemented. It promotes education for young girls and women and vehemently denounces the most barbaric traditional practices—Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and early and forced marriage.

More importantly, the bill was drafted to combat runaway gender-based violence. It also promotes equal opportunity to every Somali national regardless of gender, disability and political affiliation.

Muslim Women

In Islam, men and women are moral equal in God’s sight and are expected to fulfill the same duties of worship, prayer, faith, almsgiving, fasting, and pilgrimage. And they are entitled to the same reward. Let that sink in for a moment.

Women are no lesser than men in Islam. In fact the first person to accept Islam was a woman, and women have played a pivotal role since then. The prophet (PBUH) used to consult women and consider their opinions. This is a clear indication that women can independently make decisions and think freely.

Islam grants women every right that can protect them from the exploitation of rape. It grants the cover of their body, to choose their life partners, to access education, inheritance, and more.

Some sheikhs spin religious teaching to suit their interest. Somali culture is in some ways different from the noble heritage of Islam but unfortunately a small clique is misusing this noble heritage.

The Baffled Sheikhs

The so-called Somali Council of Ulamaas that is headed by Sheikh Bashir has denounced theocracy and chosen democracy, but it seems that they have little or no knowledge about the pillars of the system. They are struggling to reconcile between their conservative believes and secular democracy.

The baffled sheikhs should be taught that freedom is the backbone of democratic society and everyone including women are entitled to that.

More broadly, the bill is fairly enlightening. It is progressive, awe-inspiring and breathtaking legislation for a marginalized group in our society.

It is trying to show that the Somali women are a critical part of our community.


Op-ed by Ahmed Hassan, who is a social activist and critic interested in Somali politics. You can find him on Twitter at @pansomalist.

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