Two Somali-American women who won local elections this week are calling for full participation of women in Somalia’s politics, peace and development efforts.
Voters on Tuesday elected Nadia Mohamed for an at-large seat in St. Louis Park, a western suburb of Minneapolis, in the Midwestern state of Minnesota, and chose Safiya Khalid to represent a ward in Lewiston, in the northeastern state of Maine.
Both ran as Democrats and will be the first Somali immigrants on their respective councils. Both also are 23 and are black, hijab-wearing Muslims.
The two new city council members are urging women in Somalia to follow their path.
“I was elected with respect being a woman, a young, a Muslim, and hijab-wearing. So that, I would like to see Somalia doing the same because a woman can do sometimes better what a man can do,” said Mohamed.
“I would like to send a call to Somali women in Somalia, saying that they can do whatever they want, regardless of the challenges they face from the men who hold the country’s politics in monopoly,” Khalid told VOA Somali.
In Somalia’s conservative society, women’s participation in politics has have traditionally been low, and a controversial topic.
Khadiijo Mohamed Dirie, Somalia’s minister of youth and sports, said the success of young Somali politicians in the United States and Europe is a reminder of how women can be empowered in Somali society.
Right now, she says, female politicians as young as Mohamed and Khalid would have zero chance of being elected to public office in Somalia.
“Women rarely envision a position of a higher political leadership in our male-dominated social system,” Dirie told VOA. “Those who are successful in the U.S and Europe politics got an opportunity of living with a developed society in a political maturity.”
Somalia’s provisional constitution gives women 30 percent quota in both houses of the parliament. However, women currently make up less than a quarter of parliamentarians.