by Hudda Ibrahim
Female Somali National Army (SNA) soldiers stand to attention at a training camp in Beletweyne Somalia.
In 1979, the first Somali female officer, Asha Hassan Hussein, was riding a police motorcycle to patrol the streets of Mogadishu. Three decades later, women are still grappling to work in a generally male-dominated profession that breeds a masculine environment. Today Somali women are under-represented in the higher ranks of the military and police.
In times of war and societal breakdown, crimes against women reach new levels of brutality and frequency. Choosing to become a cop is not easy for women. Female officers are vulnerable and are high on al-Shabab’s hit list. Working outside the home and with men goes against their views of acceptable behavior.
On January 30, 2014, a group of female law enforcement officials staged a protest against an injunction released by the department of the police ordering all active duty women to go home. The protesting women told the press about the crucial roles they played in helping bring peace and stability to the country. The Somali women accused the Somali Police Department of trying to dismantle the country’s female police system.
“We lost our family members. We demand protection from the government. We have nowhere to go. We need our rights reinstated. If the government is adamant on sacking all female police force, they have to kill us all.” One police officer said.
In June 2013, when I visited Mogadishu, I witnessed a number of female police patrolling through the narrow alleys of the bullet-scarred buildings. Many of them with whom I talked told me they were ready to sacrifice their lives to protect the country and take a lion’s share in its rebuilding.
Even though police work in Somalia is dangerous, it has become an alternative profession for women who are willing to make sacrifices to bring security to the country disrupted by two decades of factional, tribal and religious conflict. Because of the widespread insecurity, women withstand the worst of rising death tolls and threats. Militants target the families of female police as well. Some of the protesters told the media their daughters were still missing.
One of the protesters says, “45 female police were murdered while 70 died in the line of duty and a substantial number of women were wounded.”
A systematic brutality on women in the police force is on the rise. The biggest challenges those officers face is how their fellow officers view them. As Somali women fail to receive their equal quotas in the parliament and in the government, now a few numbered women in the military and police are losing their job because of their gender inequality.
The organized and institutionalized gender gap is rearing an ugly head in Somalia. Women face numerous obstacles in achieving representation in governance. For instance, in Somaliland, one woman is among the 164 male members of the parliament, three in the cabinet of 40, 2 women out of 66 male MPs in Puntland and 38 women of 275 male MPs and 2 female ministers among the 25 male ministers and deputy ministers in this Somali Federal government. Such this current uneven quota demonstrates clear evidence that women face gender stigma from male members which can demoralize women’s capacity to maintain leadership roles and to work in the field government.
Due to the system currently in place, women in Somalia, Somaliland and Puntland face a similar fate. The political system is a masculine business. The hope of Somali women who want a system overhaul rests on the effort that they are united and work as a team. Women who are motivated in their work and committed to the goals of the police force should not be discouraged.