Situation of women, including women returnees [SML34092.EX]

This Extended Response updates information contained in the April 1994 IRB publication Human Rights Brief: Women in Somalia, the Extended Response SOM32804.EX of 20 September 1999 on the situation of women in Somalia, including Somaliland, and SML33286.E of 30 November 1999 on Somaliland.
Situation of women in Somaliland
The 1997 Somaliland constitution contains provisions prohibiting discrimination based on gender and nationality (Country Reports 1999 2000, section 5; IND Sept. 1999, para. 5.6). Nonetheless, since the current government of Somaliland came into power in 1991, women have not held important political or decision-making positions (Country Reports 1999 2000, section 3). Matt Bryden and Martina Steiner, authors of a report on women in Somalia prepared for the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), report that although women are engaged in the government administration as employees, there are no female ministers or directors general (1998, 61-62). Only one woman has served as a minister but was "expelled" before the expiration of her term (no reason given in source) (ibid.).
Mohamed Hassan, a resettlement worker at the Somaliland Canadian Society based in Toronto, agrees with the above information and explains that society in Somaliland is still traditional, and women do not have equal opportunities with men in the spheres of education, employment and politics (1 May 2000). He acknowledges that women are not represented at the political and high decision-making levels (ibid.).
Hassan adds that the women returning from the diaspora possess a western education and a changed world view, and are beginning to ask for recognition of and respect for equal rights and opportunities in all spheres of life (ibid.). The British IND report also states that several women's groups "actively promote equal rights for women and advocate the inclusion of women in responsible government positions" (Sept. 1999, para. 5.6).
Refugee repatriation and situation of returnees
According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), more than 800,000 Somalis fled to neighbouring countries such as Ethiopia and Djibouti during the civil war between 1988 and 1991 (1999). The repatriation of refugees from Ethiopia to Somaliland began in late 1997 but the operation was suspended in November 1998 at the request of the government of Somaliland (ibid. Sept. 1999, 1), which argued that neither Somaliland's economy nor security was strong enough to permit the safe return of refugees (Horn of Africa Bulletin Sept/Oct. 1999, 24).
The UNHCR explains that due to the instability and insecurity prevalent in the southern and central parts of Somalia, the refugee repatriation exercise would take place solely to Somaliland; this resumed in June 1999 with the expected return of 200,000 Somali refugees from Ethiopia (UNHCR Sept. 1999, 1). In the first three months of 2000, 1,485 families comprising 6,406 people returned to Somaliland from Ethiopia (Radio Hargeisa 29 Mar. 2000).
Returnees and re-integration program
Mary Anne Fitzgerald, Africa Representative for Refugees International, explains that returnees to Somaliland consist of two groups: refugees returning from refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia, and members of wealthy families returning from the diaspora to safeguard their commercial and real estate interests (31 Mar. 2000). Fitzgerald explains that the majority of the returnees from refugee camps "gravitate" to the town of Hargeisa where there is no infrastructure to assist them. "In essence, they are being moved from the squalor of a refugee camp to the squalor of an urban slum settlement" (ibid.).
Officials of the UNHCR field offices for Somalia, based in Nairobi and Somaliland, emphasize that UNHCR reintegration programs are geared towards assisting entire communities into which returnees resettle, rather than assisting individual returnees (10 Apr. 2000a; ibid. 10 Apr. 2000b). Given the UNHCR's limited funding, re-integration assistance consists of a standardized repatriation package of nine month's food rations similar to that provided in refugee camps and standard household items, or the monetary equivalent (ibid. 10 Apr. 2000a; UNHCR 1999).
Individuals whose properties were destroyed during the war rely on their own means to gradually rehabilitate such properties (ibid.). According to a member of Somaliland Forum, a group that works with Somalilanders around the world on finding solutions to that region's problems (Somaliland Forum 21 Mar. 2000), Jamal Abdi Gabobe who is also a doctoral student at Washington University in Seattle, there are no Somaliland-sponsored re-integration programs for returnees. Gabobe adds that some refugees including women refuse to repatriate because they are not assured of food, security or a means of making a livelihood (Gabobe 2 May 2000).
Clan protection and assistance available to women returnees
The following information supplements that found in SML33286.E of 30 November 1999. The UNHCR official in Hargeisa notes that in spite of a strong sense of community and family support for returning members of the same clan in Somaliland, irrespective of age and gender, members of less dominant and inconsequential clans are subject to "discriminatory attitudes" (10 Apr. 2000a).
He further states that if a woman (single, elderly, etc.), does receive specialized individual assistance, it would come from support groups, women's organizations and close family members rather than from the government (ibid). Mary Ann Fitzgerald explained that "other women, rather than the militia, might look out for fellow clanswomen to some extent," and that Somalis who are being repatriated from Ethiopia to Somaliland tend to settle in neighbourhoods inhabited by people from their own clans (31 March 2000). The bottom line, she added, is that clan assistance cannot be counted on (ibid.).
Matt Bryden, co-author of the above-mentioned UNIFEM report and coordinator the UN War-Torn Societies Project, also cautions that "it is not possible to generalize" about any clan protection or assistance that women, particularly single or widowed women, can expect from their extended family on return from exile (27 Feb. 2000). He writes:
There is no assurance that a widowed or single mother will be looked after by her clan. Direct support is typically limited to the extended family, which may include uncles, aunts and cousins (although not necessarily), and even this cannot be assured over the long term. The "clan" as a broader entity…is never called upon to perform this function .
A woman's expectations of support are therefore contingent upon the specific circumstances of her close family relations, and may be influenced by such factors as the circumstances of her marriage, the circumstances of her divorce/bereavement, the clan of her former husband etc….(ibid.)
Mohamed Hassan, Jamal Abdi Gabobe and Adam Hussein, professor of political science at Holy Cross College in Massachusetts and specialist in the politics of Somalia and Somaliland, all state that generally Somali clans care for their own people
(Hassan 1 May 2000; Gabobe 2 May 2000; Hussein 7 Apr. 2000). Adam Hussein and Jamal Abdi Gabobe emphasize however that the protection or assistance that a member of a clan can expect is not formal or systematic but purely voluntary (Hussein 7 Apr. 2000; Gabobe 2 May 2000). They agree with Matt Bryden (27 Feb. 2000) that one cannot generalize about it; the situation differs from one individual to another (Bryden 27 Feb. 2000; Gabobe 2 May 2000; Hussein 7 Apr. 2000). According to Jamal Abdi Gabobe, the war has led to the "pauperization" of society in such a way that even people who were considerably wealthy before the war have been impoverished to the extent that intra-clan assistance cannot be taken for granted (2 May 2000). "Clan ties still exist," he added, "but they are informal, and most people are barely able to care for themselves, let alone help someone else" (Gabobe 3 May 2000).
This Extended Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Extended Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum.
Bryden, Matt, Coordinator UN War-Torn Societies Project (WSP), Nairobi. 27 February 2000. Correspondence.
Bryden, Matt, and Marina I. Steiner. 1998. Somalia: Between Peace and War: Somali Women on the Eve of the 21st Century. New York: UNIFEM.
Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1999. 2000. United States Department of State. Washington, DC. [Accessed 3 April. 2000]
Fitzgerald, Mary Anne. Africa Representative, Refugees International. 31 March 2000.
Gabobe, Jamal Abdi, PhD student, Washington University, Seattle and member of Somaliland Forum. 2 May 2000. Telephone interview.
_____. 3 May 2000. Correspondence.
Hassan, Mohamed, re-settlement worker, Somaliland Canadian Society, Toronto. 1 May 2000. Telephone interview.
Horn of Africa Bulletin [Uppsala]. September-October 1998. "Refugee Statistics."
Hussein, Adam, political science professor and specialist on Somali politics. 7 April 2000. Telephone interview.
Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND). Home Office, UK. September 1999. Somalia Assessment Version 4. [Accessed: 18 Apr. 2000).
Radio Hargeysa [Hargeysa in Somali]. 29 March 2000. "Somaliland: More Refugees Return Home from Ethiopia." (NEXIS)
Somaliland Forum. 21 March 2000. "All That Somaliland Wants is What Djibouti Has" [Accessed 25 May 2000]
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) [Nairobi]. 10 April 2000a. Correspondence.
_____. [Hargeisa]. 10 April 2000b. Correspondence.
_____. 1999. UNHCR Global Appeal. "Repatriation and Reintegration of Somali Refugees."
_____. September 1999. "Update Of Background Paper on Refugees and Asylum Seekers from Somalia." March 1999. UNCHR: Centre for Documentation and Research.

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