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...for continuing to lead at great personal risk the female participation in the peace and reconciliation process in her war-ravaged country.
Asha Hagi has dedicated her life to gaining a better and more peaceful future for her war-torn country, Somalia. At great personal risk, she has fought for women to have a voice in the decisions that affect them. She has mobilized women in the cause of peace across clan and political divides and continues to play a vital role in mediating across warring clans in the on-going peace process. Women in Somalia are in a much stronger position today because of her courage, persistence and compassion.
Asha Hagi Elmi
Save Somali Women and Children (SSWC)
PO Box 38887 - 00623 Parklands
Born in 1962, Asha Hagi graduated in economics from Somalia National University and holds a Master's degree in business administration from the US International University in Africa.
Asha Hagi co-founded in 1992, and is the current Chair of, Save Somali Women and Children (SSWC), which works for a safe and sustainable Somalia by supporting women to overcome marginalisation, violence and poverty in their communities. SSWC has seven paid staff and nine volunteers. A large part of the humanitarian funding comes directly from the Somali community around the world as well as from international organisations and individual donors.
During the Arta peace talks in 2000, Hagi founded, together with other women, the Sixth Clan, the clan of women, to complement the traditional five Somali Clans which are all male-dominated. This became the first time women were represented in a peace process in Somalia. She played a similar role in the Mbagathi Conference in Nairobi (2002-2004), which gave birth to the Transitional Federal Government and the Transitional Federal Parliament, of which Hagi became a member.
In both cases the participation of women in these conferences played a crucial role in their success: Not only did the women represent a broader interest of the Somali citizens, compared to the often very narrow political positions of the men. They were also able to do 'shuttle diplomacy' between the antagonistic factions of the traditional five clans.
Among the women's achievements through the idea of the Sixth Clan are:
taking women to the high negotiation table with their own identity (Sixth Clan) and as equal partners in decision making,
a 12% quota for women representation in the Transitional Federal Parliament,
introduction of fair gender formatting (he / she) in the charter language,
the creation of a Ministry for Gender and Family Affairs, and
a decree by the Prime Minister of the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia ensuring a 30% quota for women in the district and regional councils, in national commissions, local committees and conferences.
The recent development in Somalia and Hagi's role in the peace process
Late in 2006, events in Somalia took a dramatic turn for the worse. There were two factions in the Transitional Federal Government, which had contrary views relating to peace dialogue or military action involving the Ethiopians. In November 2006, while a group, including Hagi, favouring the former was negotiating with the Islamic Courts Union, which effectively ruled Mogadishu and much of Somalia, the latter was inviting in the Ethiopian army. The Ethiopians took Mogadishu at the end of December, with the deaths of around 1,000 people and widespread destruction of the city. By April 2007, more than 350,000 people had fled the city.
The situation effectively prevented Hagi, who had spoken out against this development in global media, from working in Mogadishu. She was based in Nairobi for some time, but her organisation SSWC continued to work and give relief in Mogadishu to those who remained, distributing food and hygiene kits to women and children.
From mid-2008 to early 2009, Asha Hagi focused on the UN sponsored peace dialogue between the Transitional Federal Government and the Alliance Re-liberation of Somalia in Djibouti, where she was a member of the High Level Political Committee in the Djibouti Peace and Reconciliation Talks.
In the peace talks, Hagi represented a balanced position between the different political interests, but did not give way to her most important principle: the need for reconciliation and an inclusive, non-violent political process. Her role required a lot of courage and was putting her in considerable danger, both inside and outside Somalia.
Asha Hagi was elected as a member of the Federal Parliament of Somalia in August 2012.
Asha Hagi is a core group member of the Leaders Project, established in 2002, that has brought together more than 300 women leaders from around the world. She is also a member of the Pan-African Parliament in Johannesburg. She is a member of the 21 Peace Commissioners from Africa of the Inter-Faith Action for Peace in Africa (IFAPA), and a Board Member of the Africa Peace Forum (APF) and the International Resource Group on Security and Small Arms in the Horn of Africa Region.
Asha Hagi has received a number of awards for her human rights and peace-building work. In 2001, she was made an 'Ambassador for Peace' by the Interreligious and International Federation For World Peace. In 2005, she received the Blue Ribbon Peace Award from the Women Leadership Board of the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, and the first award of 'Women of Substance' by the African Women Development Fund. In 2006, she received the 'Tombouctou / Women Peacemaking Award' from Femmes Africa Solidarité. In 2009, she received the Clinton Global Citizen Award and in 2010 the Lifetime Africa Achievment Prize for African Peace.
Q: Please tell us about your childhood in Somalia.
A: My childhood in Somalia was like any other childhood we can think of. However, I had the privilege to attend Quranic school (madrasa) as a girl-child which was not common around my neighbourhood at that time.
From my own family (household) we happened to be three girls and it was uncommon to send all three to school at a go, if need arose at least one or two would be sent unlike the male children who enjoyed the full right. This was another privilege I enjoyed.
Q: What was the sparking point for your commitment?
A: The sparking point for my commitment was when the Somali civil war erupted in 1991. The defenseless women and children who have no responsibility at all in the business of war-making became the prime victims of all criminal atrocities in record.
Q: What is good in Somalia?
A: A lot of things are good, from the climate to food. But there was a unique thing which is still stuck in my mind is that the community parenting or collective responsibility. Almost every parent in my community would treat me and regard me as one of their own which was part of the culture. They had the right to make you toe the line and they also extended kindness towards one.
Q: Is Somalia a failed state?
A: Yes, it is a failed state in an attempt to find its way back on track as a viable nation state.
Q: What could happen to you if you returned to Mogadishu?
A: If I returned to Mogadishu, available options are:
I could find myself in the cold-blood assassination just like my departed peace and human rights activists.
I could be killed by indiscriminate motor-shells that claimed thousands of lives of unarmed innocent civilians.
I could have ended being a refugee along the borders or be an IDP (Internally Displaced Person).
Q: Is it sometimes difficult to persuade Somali women to reach out for power and participation?
A: From my experience, it is sometimes difficult to persuade Somali women to reach out for power and participation because of the following:
As a patriarchal society, power and political participation is seen as a male domain thing.
At women's cultural upbringing, they do not see politics their business. They shy away from it.
They are less empowered to withstand against the actual challenges.
Q: Tell us why and how you formed the sixth clan, and whether there has ever been a moment during your struggle when you truly thought about giving in?
A: Yes, there has been a moment when I truly thought of doing so. To give a clear picture of how things were by that time, here is the story of the Sixth Clan.
Why and how the sixth clan was formed:
During the Somali conflict there had been international and regional attempts to bring the warring factions together and solve the Somali political crisis. Thirteen conferences were held but they failed because they were all warlord-oriented conferences, which means only armed groups had the right to participate and excluded the participation of other actors from the civil society including women. In the year 2000, Ismaïl Omar Guelleh, President of Djibouti, convened the first all inclusive national reconciliation conference aimed at ending the clan hostility and coming up with a comprehensive national solution. Unlike the previous attempts the participation of Arta/ Djibouti conference was clan based.
In the traditional clan structure women have no space or room because in patriarchal and patrilineal societies women have neither the responsibility to protect the clan while at war nor the right to represent the clan at the table of negotiations. Unfortunately, that resulted in the total exclusion of women in the participation of that important national reconciliation conference, simply because we are women and we do not represent any clan. Did we accept it?
"NO" we said and were vehemently opposed to that unfairness and social injustice and stood up for our rights. It was the courage, tenacity, vision, activism and dynamism of SSWC under my leadership that organized the women beyond the clan boundaries and brought them together to form our own clan (the sixth clan) as an identity to fully participate in national solution seeking process. We demand our rightful space in the national reconciliation process. It was our strong conviction that our contribution was vital and worth. We mounted pressure on the host country (Djibouti), paramount clan elders, religious leaders, etc. We also built strategic alliance with some of the clan leaders, Islamic Scholars, politicians etc from different clans to support our cause.
Moreover, the innovative initiative outside the box which was the creation of the Sixth Clan enabled women to accomplish the following gains:
(a) We transformed the women's role from the traditional ululation to indispensable stakeholders to national peace and political process.
(b) We took women from the periphery to the negotiating table as equal partners in decision-making.
(c) We challenged the socio-cultural paradigm and curved out women's political space in the national political dispensation.
(d) We helped in drafting the first ever gender friendly charter that guaranteed the allocation of the women's quota which was 25 seats in the previous parliament.