Research Scholarships

Publication 10: Sharia Law, Women’s Rights on Access to Justice in Somalia

The new Somali Federal Government has consistently expressed its commitment to achieving gender equality as well as women’s empowerment. In Somalia, despite unmet justice needs transcending across both men and women; the form of these demands augments Somali women’s experiences of adversity, exclusion, discrimination, and violence. Most of the issues Somali women experience are similar to those faced by women in several war and post-conflict nations. Gender- specific impediments such as institutional prejudice, societal shame, psychological trauma associated with filing claims, and a lack of gender-sensitive processes all restrict Somali women from taking advantage of existing avenues to seek justice and achieve their fundamental rights. Although the National Gender Policy Guide (2014-2024) underpins the need for increased women’s rights and access to justice, the policy guide is yet to be adopted and implemented. The premise underlines the need to research the underlying factors impeding the rights of Somali women and to understand how Sharia Law facilitates their access to justice The study adopted a descriptive and desktop research design. The study targeted the major players in the justice system that include government institutions and agencies, Non-Governmental Organizations such as human rights organizations, advocacy groups, and the council of elders located in Mogadishu. To realize the set objectives, qualitative data was collected using key informant interviews as well as desktop reviews from secondary data sources. These include published articles and reports from international bodies and the judiciary in Somalia. Thematic and content analysis was conducted to enhance triangulation of the information gathered. 

Ideally, Somalia’s legal justice system accepts the interoperability of three laws namely: Sharia Law, civil law, and xeer commonly known as customary law. In fact, results of the study reveal that the inequality in dispensation of the law is a result of contradiction and overlapping of precedence within the civil law, xeer (customary law), and the Sharia law. In addition to this, the laws lack a distinct legal structure to guide their implementation. That said, Sharia law permeates preset laws due to its’ acceptability and legitimacy among the Islamic population despite conflict with international human rights standards and women’s rights. Despite the Islamic courts reluctance to incorporate Sharia law in their rulings, majority of Muslim women believe that incorporation of Sharia law is crucial to the dispensation of justice and their individual rights.

The study suggests that traditional elders in Somalia should reform specific sections of Somali customary law (xeer) to support the provisions of both international human rights norms and Islamic law (shari’a). Additional strategies that can be embraced include commissioning of legal clinics, provision of legal aid in translation and dissemination of laws and judicial processes, and legal empowerment of the Somali population. 
The study identified the need for fostering an inclusive climate for women to access and expedite the judicial process by improving policy and transforming legal norms that discriminate against women in Somalia. Due to the acceptability of Shari’ah standards across the country, it is imperative that its’ use will facilitate access to justice for Somali women. 


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