Executive Director remarks at the United Nations Security Council meeting on Somalia

Remarks by Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women at the United Nations Security Council meeting on Somalia on 13 September

Date: Tuesday, September 18, 2018

[As delivered]

Thank you, Madame President, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Somalia, Michael Keating, Special Representative of the Chairperson of the AU Commission (SRCC) for Somalia and Head of AMISOM, Ambassador Francisco Madeira, Excellencies.

Let me start by thanking you, Madame President, for this opportunity to brief the Council on my recent visit to Somalia.

I believe, as the previous speakers already indicated, that Somalia has a once-in-a-generation opportunity for both peace and gender equality. Many of the Somalis I spoke with are risking their lives to seize this opportunity.

One of the most important positive developments in Somalia is the representation of women in public office, which is increasing and has been helped by special measures. Women’s representation jumped from 14 to almost 25 per cent in the last parliamentary elections, bringing important voices to Somali politics, and bringing to the centre the fight to end child marriage, to end female genital mutilation, and to change laws that discriminate against women.

The participation of women in Somalia would be boosted even better and faster if it was not left to the elders of the clan, who tend to entrench the inequalities that the laws are fighting against. Many more leaders that embrace gender equality and support women are needed in order for us to fast-track the necessary changes.

In Baidoa, the interim capital of South-West State, where the Governor has been a stellar supporter of women, I spoke to 31 female legislators in the state assembly, which is the highest number of women in the legislature in Somalia. I saw the need for the support that the women called for. I was able to hear their pain and their desire to change the future of their children and their communities. These women and the people of Somalia desperately need the continued support of the international community, so that their courageous efforts will not be in vain.

I also saw important developments, as evidenced by the constitutional review and the preparations for the 2020-2021 elections, starting with a legally binding 30 per cent quota for women. The Government of Somaliland agreed this June on reserving 20 per cent of seats for women in upcoming parliamentary and local council elections. It is my strong belief that this Security Council can and must stand with the federal and state governments in their efforts to advance gender equality, often against the objection of powerful clan-based authorities.

The voices of women of Somalia, and other minorities, must be heard. They must be at the tables where decisions are being taken, because Somalia remains one of the countries with some of the worst conditions for women and girls.

Earlier this year, Somaliland followed Puntland in adopting a law criminalizing rape, forced marriage, trafficking for sexual slavery, and sexual harassment. Even advocates were taken by surprise when the bill got 35 of 50 votes in the House of Elders. The federal government finally agreed on a sexual offences bill, which only needs parliamentary approval. After a 10-year old girl bled to death, the Government announced the first-ever prosecution of female genital mutilation, and there is a draft bill to criminalize this practice. These are encouraging developments.

In the last few years we have seen other advances, including the first forensic laboratory with capacity to test DNA in rape cases; the Chief of the Somali National Army issuing a Command Order affirming zero tolerance for sexual violence; a traditional dispute resolution policy to encourage families to take sexual violence complaints to courts rather than the clan-based informal mechanisms; and a woman being appointed as a chairperson of the Independent National Electoral Commission.

We, together with the African Union and the women of Somalia, will soon launch a chapter of the African Women Leaders Network in Somalia, which will support movement-building amongst the many women in Somalia that are hungry for change.

These landmark achievements need your support and sustained attention. The progress Somalis are making is not irreversible. These laws are often ignored. The female parliamentarians are often marginalized or at the whim of clan elders. Al-Shabaab courts are still killing women by burying them neck-deep and pelting them with stones. In customary courts, rapists often simply compensate the victim’s family, or marry her. Impunity for sexual violence is still rampant.

I hope the Security Council will interrogate the impact on women’s current efforts to counter violent extremism, so that you can identify the stronger ways of supporting the women. There are three centres to rehabilitate men who disengaged from Al-Shabaab, but none for women. Women can play a vital role in motivating the voluntary disengagement of Al-Shabaab members, but this work is often an afterthought and under-resourced. With greater support, there too, women can make significant progress and we stand ready to support them.

Somalia is also an important test case for the Secretary-General’s gender parity goals because the lack of gender balance in the UN has been noticed by our Somali partners.

I expect Council Members will follow-up on implementation of the mandates you gave to AMISOM and UNSOM earlier this year, which include many references to gender equality. And to support women’s participation, not just in elections or electoral reforms, but in efforts to advance national and local reconciliation, prevent violent extremism and reform the security sector.

Just as I have heard many times in this Council that peace will not be achieved by military means alone, I know Somalia will not have long-lasting peace and deep reconciliation without the far-reaching contribution, involvement and recognition of women. We should support and help the women to change the deep structures that continue to reinforce inequality and insecurity. That can happen only when women are fully involved.

Women’s organizations in Somalia are organized, they are dedicated, they are activists, they are advocates, they are entrepreneurs, they are professionals, they are patriots, and they pay the ultimate price. Let us think about them as we look at the way in which we are supporting change and enhancing security in Somalia. In the many challenges that lie ahead, women will both face the challenges but also be able to make a difference.

In Somalia, the glass is half filled. Let us help to fill up the rest of the glass.

I thank you again, Madame President, for giving me this opportunity, and for the support that this Council has given to UN Women.