UNSOM holds meetings on the impact of Somali traditional justice system on women
BAIDOA, KISMAAYO - The United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) has held a series of consultative meetings with a cross-section of Somali women leaders to collect their views on the traditional justice system and how it hinders women’s access to justice.
Held in Baidoa and Kismaayo, the discussions brought together women local leaders, government officials and civil society representatives. “The idea was to give women space to express how they feel about the traditional justice system and whether it protects women’s rights or not,” explained Virginie Blanchard, a Judicial Affairs Officer from the UNSOM Rule of Law and Security Institutions Group (ROLSIG) which convened the meetings.
Discussions focused on the challenges women face in accessing justice and also addressed proposals for reforms. “They identified practices that they don’t want to accept any more. Like, for example, the fact that in the traditional justice system, a young girl will be given as compensation to another clan in case of murder,” Ms. Blanchard stated.
Speaking at the forum in Kismaayo, Abshira Qamis Ismail, the Chairperson of the Kismaayo Women’s Cooperation organization, attributed the obstacles facing women to a lack of female representation in the formal and traditional justice sectors. She added that these challenges had been compounded by ignorance about the law.
“We don’t have women to whom we can report our cases. We don’t have female elders to whom we can tell our private issues. We don’t have women to address the problems we face,” noted Ms. Abshira.
Speaking at the forum in Baidoa, Farhiya Ahmed Abdi, an officer of the Somali Police Force said that traditional elders prefer to resolve cases regarding the abuse of women outside the formal courts - where cases are adjudicated more quickly – and within the traditional justice system instead, where most male perpetrators go unpunished.
“Every day we receive cases of women who are physically abused and tortured by their husbands. The challenge we face is that whenever we arrest the man and present the cases to courts for prosecution, traditional elders go to the courts and interfere with the cases,” Ms. Farhiya observed. “This jeopardizes the rights of women”.
Lul Issak Adan of the Somalia South-Central Non-State Actors, a local non-governmental organization, described the meeting in Baidoa as an eye-opening exercise for women. “This forum has enlightened us about our rights. Since there are the traditional law and courts and we are women, the rights of women are always violated as elders try to resolve our cases traditionally,” Ms. Lul said.
“It was clear in the discussions that (women) really need some more training on advocacy skills, how to present their case and what kind of expectations they can have. We will prepare them and then they can meet with traditional elders and claim for their rights,” Ms. Blanchard added.
The two meetings also identified concrete steps that women can take to achieve better representation within the country’s formal and traditional judicial systems.