On October 16, along with Allida Black, project director of the Eleanor Roosevelt Papers of George Washington University, Vital Voices co-hosted Somali parliamentarian and women’s advocate Asha Hagi during a roundtable discussion entitled, ‘Women’s Vital Voices in Peacekeeping’. Hagi will serve as an expert panelist during the Education and Empowerment session at Vital Voices’ upcoming Human Rights Summit, ‘The Courage to Lead’, to be held in Geneva, Switzerland. Co-founder and current Chair of Save Somali Women and Children (SSWC), the Nobel Peace Prize nominee has served as a remarkable voice for women’s rights in a nation destabilized by violent and divisive clan warfare. When civil war broke out in 1991 following the ousting of dictator Siad Barre, Somali society was torn apart by inter-clan fighting that left women without an identity of their own, for they were defined in accordance with birth clan or marriage clan loyalties. Since she was part of an inter-clan marriage, Asha Hagi felt that she was neither part of one clan nor the other, she explains:
“I had no full identity…I realized what I needed most, what women needed most, was the womanhood identity.”
Resolved that women must be involved in peacekeeping negotiations, Hagi advocated for the formal recognition of Somali women’s identity and rights, an innovative concept in the state. Recognizing that clans had a legitimacy that women did not, Hagi and her fellow activists formed the Sixth Clan, a clan created entirely for Somali women, regardless of other clan associations. With great struggle and effort, the Sixth Clan was officially recognized in 2000 and Hagi was the first woman to be given a seat at peacekeeping negotiations during the Arta peace talks.
A veritable pioneer of women’s rights and empowerment in Somalia, Hagi shared in her address to the human rights advocates and NGO representatives gathered that she has refused to allow women to be viewed as victims, despite the oppressive circumstances they face. In what has been regarded as “a bloodless revolution,” the movement for women’s equality in Somalia has begun to “change [women’s] lives through giving them a political voice,” said Hagi.
While there remains a great deal to be accomplished, and women continue to face the threat of assassination and intimidation for their involvement in the political arena, 25 women presently serve in the national parliament. Through her work in parliament and the women’s organization SSWC, Hagi is looking to shift the social and political paradigms that have long-ruled in Somalia by promoting women’s political involvement, economic development, and education, proving that women are an invaluable asset to reconciliation and progress in their society.