'Male leaders have only created wars'

Time of article published Sep 30, 2003

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Nairobi - Somali women broke into song and dance to mark Asha Abdi's decision to declare her interest in the presidency.

Asha, who is a delegate at the ongoing Somalia peace talks being held in Kenya says she is looking forward to uniting her country, which has been embroiled in a bloody civil war since 1991.

"Somalia is like a broken glass. I want to put the pieces together and bring unity. I have what it takes. I have support of women, youth and men alike," Asha said on Monday.

"Somalia needs change. We are sick and tired of male leaders who have done nothing except create wars. They have been fighting over power while people die of poverty and starvation," she said.

Since the fall of president Siad Barre's regime in 1991, 23 factions belonging to four powerful clans have been fighting over territory, pressured by famine and political instability.

Saying they have had enough, women now appear more determined than ever to change their country's political landscape.

Three women, including Asha, have registered as presidential candidates, the first time in the history of the Horn of Africa country.

At the peace talks, women are demanding at least 25 percent representation in all decision-making posts, instead of the 12 percent spelt out in the new charter. The charter, adopted on September 15, will be a guiding document in the formation of a central government in Mogadishu.

In a statement addressed to the special envoy to the talks, Bethuel Kiplagat, the women said: "We are proposing that 25 percent of every position in the government, which is a bare minimum, be reserved for Somali women delegates in the proposed government structure.

"Aware that historical and social factors limit Somali women's participation in public office, we are willing to negotiate for this percentage, until we reach the level of equal opportunities and representation to facilitate our integration into public office."

The women have criticised the gender imbalance at the talks - of the 366 delegates, only four percent are women.

"Women form the majority of the population in my country, yet we are poorly represented," Asha said.

Of Somalia's 9,7-million people, about 65 percent are women.

Women have played a key role in reconciliation processes even before the current peace talks opened in Kenya last October.

"Women have been involved in the struggle for liberation of Somalia. We have worked so hard looking after families and preaching anti-war messages."

The peace talks are being held under the auspices of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development, which comprises Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan, Djibouti and Somalia.

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