Fifty years have elapsed since Somalia held its last one-person, one-vote election, and that extended drought of democracy was the main motivation of Aziza Ali when she joined the United Nations Integrated Electoral Support Group (IESG) in Somalia.
“The desire to see my country achieve inclusivity in the decision-making process, where citizens exercise their democratic rights by choosing leaders of their choice, inspired me to join IESG,” says Ms. Ali, an electoral training officer who was hired by IESG in 2016.
The IESG team comprises electoral specialists from the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and it is mandated to support inclusive electoral processes in Somalia.
“Inclusion will reduce the prospects of conflict and help Somalia achieve peace and stability, and the IESG team is here to help the country achieve that goal,” she adds.
Ms. Ali organizes and facilitates training programmes for staff members of Somalia’s National Independent Electoral Commission (NIEC), which is the main government entity in charge of preparing and conducting the country’s universal suffrage election that is scheduled to take place in 2020.
“We provide support to NIEC in order to strengthen its capacity,” she observes.
Other duties include the recruitment of instructors for training programmes sponsored by IESG and the translation of documents into Somali for easy use by participants.
Thanks in part to the training and technical advice provided by the integrated UN group, the NIEC developed a five-year strategic plan that sets out key objectives to be achieved in preparation for a universal suffrage election.
Challenges and long days –with an eye to the future
Ms. Ali’s normal day begins early in the morning before six, due to the demands of work, school and family.
The training sessions she has helped to organize have focused on a variety of topics, ranging from the principles of electoral administration and the electoral cycle to gender-responsive elections and the acquisition of media skills.
A nationwide voter registration campaign is expected to launch at the start of 2020, and the NIEC recently organized two workshops for women and youth to educate them on the ongoing electoral process and ensure that they understand the importance of registering themselves to vote.
Somalia’s electoral process in 2016 increased the percentage of female members of the federal parliament from 14 per cent in the ninth parliament to 24 per cent in the current legislature.
But that figure fell short of the 30 per cent gender quota that was endorsed by the government of then President Hassan Sheikh Mohamed and the international community.
“The biggest challenge has been the low representation of women,” Ms. Ali notes. “We hope that by 2020, women representation in parliament will be more than 30 per cent.”
A new dawn for inclusivity and gender equality?
Prospects for achieving that goal could be improved by passage of a pending electoral reform bill that would require all political parties to adopt measures that encourage the participation of women in politics and decision-making processes.
“Somali women should be encouraged to participate and take part in the electoral affairs of the country because they are the backbone of the society,” she states.
As Somalia joins the rest of the world in celebrating International Women’s Day, the Mogadishu-born electoral training officer urges women to take stock of the achievements made thus far in the fight for gender equality, while also planning for the challenges that still lie ahead.