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Last Updated: Friday, 25 February, 2005, 11:58 GMT
Somalia: A woman's perspective
By Celeste Hicks
BBC News, Nairobi

Somalia's exiled leaders are making a landmark visit home as the government prepares to relocate from Kenya.

Female members of the former Somali army march in Mogadishu.
Improved security is paramount for Somali women

Without an effective government since 1991, warlords have been battling for control of the country, dividing it into a patchwork of fiefdoms.

Violence and insecurity has delayed the government's move so far but it also remains the key concern for Somalia's women.

Mariam Arif Qassim is one of the female MPs playing a leading role in the government's relocation.

She says creating a safe and secure environment is essential for all Somalis, but above all for women and their families.

"We need security, because from security, everything starts," she said.

New roles

"From security there is the possibility to open schools; from security there is the possibility of healthcare for the family. From security, the unity of the family is better, fathers come home".

Mariam is a successful and well-known businesswoman in Mogadishu, running a busy hotel which holds parties and weddings in Kilometre Five in the south of the city.

It is our duty to show now what we can do for Somalia, politically
Mariam Arif Qassim

Traditionally, she says, women have been excluded from politics and peacekeeping - in many of the initial Somali peace conferences following the civil war, there was no official role at all for women in the discussions.

This time, the Kenya peace conference made special provision for women, and Mariam says she is confident they will now be taken seriously.

"This is obviously a new phenomenon for the Somalis, this political activity. But I don't think Somali women have a great problem to be accepted as politicians.

"Somali women are very active in business, they're very involved in social activities. It is our duty to show now what we can do for Somalia, politically".

As well as being a politician, a mother and a businesswoman, Mariam is also finding the time to write a book about the role of women in the country.

She firmly believes that men are coming round to the idea of female empowerment, and that change needs to be supported by everyone.

'No justice'

But despite the confidence of the women, they remain at a disadvantage because, as a group, they have been unable to fulfil their constitutional right to a 12% representation.

In a parliament composed of 275 members, 33 of them should be women.

Facts and figures about life in Somalia

But currently there are only 22 women, because some clans refused to have women's names on their candidate lists.

"We don't feel angry, we feel like there's been no justice.

"Women should have the quota that was written in the federal charter. The only good opportunity we have to rectify this situation is when a constitutional court is set up, and then we will sue the parliament".

But she refuses to see herself as someone who is only fighting for her sex.

"I think the priority now is Somalia. If we have Somalia back as our country, if we have security again, if we have a stable country, if we have Somalia as a member of the international community again - then we can talk about women's issues and women's problems".


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