* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
By Salma Zulfiqar and Ahmed Omar
Zahra Ugaas Farah says her mission in life is to champion women’s rights in Somalia to promote peace. When war broke out in the early 1990s, Zahra says she could not watch the unfolding chaos and bloodshed without taking action. In 1992, she established an NGO in Mogadishu called the Family Empowerment and Relief Organisation (FERO) to assist victims of the conflict and work towards sustainable peace.
“Women and children started paying the highest price in the senseless killings and there was a total breakdown of the rule of law. Having experienced this horrible situation, I decided to volunteer and lead by example with humanitarian work to help the most vulnerable people in society,” Zahra said.
“I am tirelessly searching for long lasting peace in Somalia,” she explained. “Peace is the mother of development and without peace we cannot progress as a nation,” she added. “We have a new government in place now and we should use this as an opportunity to bring everyone together to work on a long-term peace plan”.
Over the years Zahra has enforced various peace initiatives through FERO, which implements projects across South Central Somalia. One of her first peace initiatives was through a workshop called: “The Role of Somali Woman in Peace Building” held in Kenya in 2002. It allowed women delegates from civil society, the former Transitional National Government (TNG), warring factions and female observers at the Somali National Peace Conference to discuss how they could contribute and bring about peace.
The ‘Somali Women, Peace and Education’ Center was also established in Mogadishu by FERO in 2002 giving more than 200 women and girls an insight into conflict resolution and offered them skills for income generation.
In the past, FERO has organised football and basketball matches in South Central Somalia with mixed teams comprised of players from different clans who are playing together, on the same side, to compete for peace trophies.
Empowerment and peace-building forums have been held on a large scale as part of FERO’s activities, allowing women to take stock, enhance negotiation skills, exchange information and discuss ideas. For example, seventy women’s groups, including teachers, nurses, scholars and business women from the Banadir region attended a five-day peace-building workshop in Mogadishu in 2007.
On a national level, Zahra has participated in a number of peace processes sponsored by the international community, including, Arte, Djibouti in 2000 and Mbagati, Nairobi in 2004. Zahra was elected as the Vice-Chair of the reconciliation committees in both processes. “I feel proud to have been part of both processes and am proud of the fact that I was able to ensure that Somali women’s history was re-written and that their efforts and contributions have been appreciated,” Zahra said.
A power-sharing agreement and the declaration of the then Transitional National Government were produced at Arte in August 2000. The process also established the ‘4.5 formula’ in Somali politics, a system of fixed proportional representation by clan in both negotiations and transitional governments. Somali women achieved a great deal of success at the Arte Conference as they were allowed to represent themselves as a ‘sixth clan’ joining four major clans and a coalition of smaller one, according to Zahra.
”It was the first time Somali women were given the opportunity to sit with men and talk about peace,” she added.
Zahra believes that it is only through unity that Somali women can fight for their rights and actively participate in future peace-building and reconciliation initiatives.
“Women should consider themselves as one single entity and not as members from different clans or tribes. Together they can make a difference in our communities,” she said.
See video clip of Zahra Ugaas Farah: http://bit.ly/15Beecp
Zahra Ugaas Farah was identified through the efforts of the United Nations Political Office for Somalia/UN Women Joint Strategy on Gender and Mediation to provide Somali women with insight and capacity in peace-building.
-- Salma Zulfiqar is a communications consultant for the United Nations Political Office for Somalia (UNPOS)/Albany Associates and Ahmed Omar is a consultant for UNPOS
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