Women in Somaliland

By: Richard Mudyazvivi

Somaliland Background

Somaliland also known as the Republic of Somaliland a self-proclaimed and internationally unrecognized country located of in the Horn of Africa. Somaliland borders Somalia to the east, Ethiopia to the south and west, Djibouti to the north-east with the Gulf of Eden to the north.

Somaliland emerged with the collapse of Somalia as a state in 1991. The overthrow of the Somali dictator Siad Barre in 1991 signalled the collapse of the Somali state and triggered the breaking away of Somaliland from Somalia.

The ensuing civil war from 1991 to the present saw the emergence of Somaliland as an island of peace and instability in the Horn of Africa. The ten-year civil war from 1982 to 1991 had destroyed more than 90% of the public infrastructure, and killed around 250,000 people.

Somaliland has a population of around 4,979,218 with its capital, Hargeisa having the biggest population of about 1,062,029. As a result of its unrecognized status, sometimes obtaining accurate statistics is an issue.

Women and Politics in Somaliland

Because of the linkage between politics and bread and butter issues, it is very important to examine the position of women in the political life of Somaliland.

Women in Somaliland have a long history of political participation. This dates back to pre and post 1960. Siad Barre’s first decade however has been described by some scholars as a ‘golden era’ for women. In addition, women in Somaliland have a unique opportunity in the region to participate in politics and democracy.

This period saw the establishment of the Somali Women’s Democratic Organisation (SWDO), the ‘women’s section’ of Barre’s Somali Revolutionary Socialist Party in 1977 (Mohamud, 2014).The second decade however was different and was characterized by ill treatment of women to legitimise the existence of the regime.

The Grand Conference of National Reconciliation in Borama was held in 1993, the chief aim being, ending the turmoil in Somaliland. With that said, the conference did not stop all the clan hostilities.

The halting of clan hostilities was partially successful in the change of power from the military government to a civilian administration and institutionalising the political system. In addition, the conference managed to disarm and demobilize the warring militias that were roaming in the country.

Women were for the first time, included in the peace-making process as observers at the conference. Despite this, their influence was curtailed by the exclusionary selection criteria and procedures as well as patriarchal attitudes that are as a result of culture and sharia law.

While the constitution guarantees equality of education, employment, and health to all citizens and condemns all forms of discrimination against women, men continue to be favoured over women in positions of authority and power.

Traditionally, only men are eligible to lead and represent their clan in the council of clan elders, known as the Guurti.

There is relatively large numbers of women employed in public administration in Somaliland but, the proportions of women to men in higher decision-making positions in the country is small.

To fix the anomalies, the Ministry of National Planning and Development (MoNPD) developed a five-year National Development Plan (NDP) (2012-2016) that emphasised on sustainable development and poverty reduction.

The document also gave special emphasis on the need for public sector administration reform and the problem of unequal gender representation in public institutions. It also makes a clear point that this underrepresentation of women is not in line with principles of good governance.

In the NDP document, the ministry states that, “women are underrepresented in both the executive and legislative public institutions. This is inconsistent with good governance which should be inclusive, fair and participatory.”

Women and Political Leadership

Article 22 in the National Constitution of Somaliland grants women equal rights to political participation, form political parties and nomination by political parties for political leadership. However the findings on the ground reveal a huge gap between de facto figures and perception-based data.

There are currently nine female representatives in the Local Council out of 365, one female Member of Parliament out of 82, no women in the Upper House (Guurti), three female ministers (two full and one deputy minister) out of 32, and no female judges. According to these statistics, one can conclude that Somaliland has a long way to go when it comes to the role of women in national politics.

Citizens of an Unrecognized Country

Despite Somaliland not being a recognized country, it continues to be guided by international plans, targets, statutes and treaties. In August 2017, the country came up with a new National Development Plan (NDPII).

The NDPII incorporates and recognizes SDG targets despite the fact that they are nor an official signatory. One of the targets tallying with the SDGs include; enhancing public participation in decision-making.

Women and Education in Somaliland

Somaliland has benefitted greatly from efforts to improve its education programs. School gross enrolment increased from 39 percent in 2006 to over 60 percent in 2010. Although, the majority of these students have been males.

Women education and induction rates have been lagging behind in Somaliland. Women are face cultural barriers to equal education opportunities and according to the UNDP 2010, in 2006, 46.3 percent of male children attended primary school compared to only 33.3 percent of female children.

The irony however is that, women who are primary breadwinners in many families due to their work in the informal economy, are left out when it comes to education. Parents don’t prioritize sending the girl child to school. It therefore becomes a necessity for them to be given equal access to education so that they can enjoy their political and legal rights.

Employment of Women in Somaliland

One generally thinks that what determines the kind of employment that one will have in the future is the education that one has received.

Failure to be educated automatically translates to no employment formally and in the government, which is the bearer of power and the sole decision maker in the country. Higher education means an increase in the likelihood of labour market participation for both men and women.

As noted above, women are less educated than men in Somaliland and as a result, men occupy more decision making positions as compared to women. With the above said however, tourists in Somaliland have noted that the vast majority of local shops are in fact run by women.

The Somaliland economy is largely informal as it gives very limited options for formal employment to the Somaliland citizens. According to the UNDP 2011, Women are twice as likely as men to be unemployed but actively looking for a job (30.1% of the female labour force, compared to 16.4% among men).

This shows that more and more women are trying their luck looking for formal employment in Somaliland. One of the reasons why it’s very difficult to access employment opportunities in Somaliland is ‘clanism’. Somaliland just like its neighbour Somalia, is divided into clans and it’s those divisions that create and enforce barriers during the search of employment.

Clans discriminate against other clans and tend to be nepotistic in this exercise. In addition, a lot of women are ‘vulnerably employed’ and that means there is a lot of self employed women and their state of employment is so fragile that it can be affected by simple happenings.

Labour Force Participation

The latest available data on labour market statistics is the Labour Force Survey 2012, conducted by the Ministry of Labour with technical support from ILO.

In 2012, labour force participation rates stand at 56% for urban males, 29% for urban females, 57% for rural males, and 42% for rural females. By age groups, employment was highest among 35-54 year-olds, followed by 25-34 year olds.

According to the United Nations, ‘Women often face social, cultural, political and institutional discrimination, including the denial of access to, or deprivation of, control over productive resources such as land, credit and education. Corruption can easily make it more difficult for women to access public goods and services.’

Women Rights in Somaliland

Article 36 of the Somaliland Constitution states:

‘The rights, freedoms and duties laid down in the Constitution are to be enjoyed equally by men and women, save for matters which are specifically ordained in Islamic Sharia.

The Government shall encourage, and shall legislate for, the right of women to be free of practices which are contrary to Sharia and which are injurious to their person and dignity.

Women have the right to own, manage, oversee, trade in, or pass on property in accordance with the law.

In order to raise the level of education and income of women, and also the welfare of the family, women shall have the right to have extended to them education in home economics and to have opened for them vocational, special skills and adult education schools.’81

Somaliland Constitution (2001).


Inclusive peace & transition initiative - Case Study Series, Women in Peace and Transition Processes- Case Study | Women in Peace and Transition Processes. Somaliland (1993).

Ingiriis and Hoehne, 2013; The impact of civil war and state collapse on the roles of Somali women: A blessing in disguise, Journal of Eastern African Studies.

Ministry of National Planning and Development Somaliland (2011). National Development Plan (2012-2016)

Mohamud, M., 2015, ‘Policy Brief: The Political and Civic Engagement of Somali Women’, 11 (April) Heritage Institute for Policy Studies (HIPS) (Mogadishu: HIPS).

Somaliland Constitution (2001).

https://www.ilo.org , Labour Force Survey 2012, conducted by the Ministry of Labour, Somaliland.

Somaliland National Development Plan II © saferworld/kate stanworth https://en.populationdata.net/rankings/population/#somaliland



UNDP. 2011a. Somaliland MDG Report, 2010. United Nations Development Programme [Internet], 21 February. Available from: <www.so.undp.org/index.php/Download-document/291-Somaliland-MDG-Report-Firstdraft.html> [Accessed 6 June 2011].

UNDP (2008); Corruption and Development, p.19.

Yassin, H.A. 2011. Where are the press freedoms in Somaliland? SomalilandPress [Internet], 1 February. Available from: <http://somalilandpress.com/where-are-the-press-freedoms-in-somaliland-19942> [Accessed 28 June 2011].

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