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The Impact Initiative has closed. This website has now been archived and will no longer be updated.

Political Settlement in Somaliland: a gendered perspective

Research Partners:


Photo (cropped): Hargeisa, Somaliland. Photo credit: YoTuT/Flickr under licence CC BY 2.0
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Principal Investigator: Michael John Walls. Lead Organisation: University College London

Co-investigator: Marie-Luise Schueller

Recent research recognises the importance of political settlements -ongoing, adaptable political processes- in determining the equitability of development and the level of stability in societies. However, little research on political settlements analyses the different roles that women and men play in determining a given settlement.

Political settlements themselves frequently and systemically exclude women, despite the fact that they are the majority in post-conflict situations, and high levels of gender inequality and violence against women and girls (VAWG) make local instability more likely. It is thus critical that policy makers understand both specific settlements and their gender dimensions, so that development interventions can be designed in a way that works within and on them to enhance equitable and consequently more sustainable development. This would reduce the risks and impact of violence and instability, increasing the effectiveness of interventions in fragile states.

This project focuses on Somaliland as an excellent case for analysis of power relationships between formal and informal actors in a relatively stable environment, but with strong applicability across a wider area: the Somali Horn of Africa, and with insights that are also useful elsewhere. A post-conflict territory, Somaliland's political settlement has been characterised by 23 years of state building. Although it has enjoyed sustained peace since 1997 and held a series of popular elections, the settlement remains unresolved. Somali society is based on a patriarchal system that largely excludes women from formal political decision-making.

As in many post-colonial societies, a clan-based structure coexists and is diversely incorporated into state building and politics. This dual governance system retains kinship structures on the one hand, while adopting nation-state systems on the other. Importantly, research indicates that, while women's political marginalisation reflects this patriarchal system, it has also worsened as a result of conflict and been slow to improve in the period following it. In addition, conflict has exacerbated VAWG. Gender inequality and violence form a barrier to the effectiveness of interventions promoting inclusive development: as well as critical problems in their own right, they contribute to long-term fragility and undermine sustainable development. Analysis is therefore needed as to whether and in what ways gender identities (masculinities and femininities) affect socio-political participation and VAWG in contemporary Somali society. This is to ensure that the development of policies (national or international) and other measures aimed at tackling gender inequality and the elimination of VAWG are appropriately adjusted to ensure successful implementation.

The project will develop a gender-aware analysis of the political settlement in Somaliland, before exploring ways in which policy and interventions could contribute to more effective and equitable development and increased stability as well as increasing women's political participation. This will include an analysis of how gender identities are perceived, and how they influence socio-political participation and VAWG and how this has contributed to, or undermined a stable, inclusive post-conflict political settlement. That gender-aware analysis will then be used to examine how specific development interventions have interacted with and influenced the settlement, and to assess measures that might improve their effectiveness. It will specifically focus on institutions, as politics and the overall political settlement cannot be separated from the performance and functioning of institutions, which are also gendered. By basing politics at the core of institutional power analysis, the political settlement lens offers the potential for a more nuanced view of institutional arrangements, thus permitting better-informed choices between different types of development interventions.


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For Policy Makers and Development Practitioners

The project will improve development policy and practice by identifying underlying factors that entrench gender inequality, conflict and violence and by providing a gendered understanding of Somaliland's political settlement. This will enable interventions designed to function within the settlement, and to promote equitable change. It will be relevant for those engaged in post-conflict interventions, where a better understanding of political settlements will assist in more effectively addressing inequality and the causes of conflict, and in reducing violence and increasing women's political participation.

Local Researchers and Civil Society

Project design involved local staff in Somaliland, through Progressio from the design stages. Close collaboration with Somali researchers and development practitioners will enhance local research capacity and increase understanding and involvement in the issues. Two consultative stakeholder workshops in Hargeisa will be organised with the Observatory of Conflict and Violence Prevention (OCVP). About 20 people from government, donors, civil society and women's organisations, academics and community leaders will attend. This, plus a research methods workshop with the full research team, will ensure ownership of and participation in the research process and common understanding of objectives, methodologies, management and outcomes. Most data collection will be carried out by local researchers, enhancing ability to carry out research in the future. We will actively seek opportunities to involve them through the OCVP in further research, and in sharing experiences on this project.

Wide Applicability

Given socio-cultural similarities, the findings will be relevant to other Somali societies, and also to those with comparable cultural, social and religious profiles such as Yemen and Afghanistan. All are fragile states or in post-conflict situations, and also hover at the bottom of the global gender equality index. Anticipated future research includes a comparative gendered analysis of political settlements in Somalia and Somaliland.

Impact Built into Design

Impact is integral to the project and will be ensured by the participation of Progressio, a non-governmental organisation with wide experience of working on gender and governance issues in fragile states, as co-investigator. Progressio has an office in Hargeisa and long-standing partnerships with civil society and women's groups in Somaliland as well as the Somali UK diaspora. Over the years, Progressio has been working with the women's umbrella NAGAAD, advocating for a women's quota in parliament. Resistance from parliamentarians has clearly shown the structural obstacles to promoting women's participation in Somaliland and thus provided Progressio with a strong rationale for this research (see also 'Pathways to Impact' section).

Progressio's long and close cooperation with women's rights organisations will enable participation and trust of potential beneficiaries in the project. Progressio focuses on programmes, policy change, and building the capacities of civil society and government institutions. It has already been asked by the Government of Somaliland to assist with the implementation of gender policy.

This research will form part of that.

The findings of the research will inform Progressio's programme design and advocacy work to ensure policy decisions and measures are taken that will contribute to stability and increase the impact of development interventions, particularly on women. They will also be useful for policymakers and other NGOs aiming for more effective, gender-inclusive development interventions in Somaliland and similar contexts. Progressio's membership of the DFID PPA Learning Partnership Gender Working Group and other networks will enable Progressio to discuss and share the project concept and outputs with a wider group of development partners and INGOs in the UK.

Primary theme: 
Grant Reference: 
Project Status: 
Grant Category: 
Research Grant
Lead Organisation Department: 
Development Planning Unit
Fund Start Date: 
July 6th, 2015
Fund End Date: 
January 5th, 2017
Fund Currency Code: 
Fund Value: