Somalia is classified as a low-income country. Due to the recurrent and prolonged conflicts, the country faces severe food insecurity. It has been unable to consistently invest in basic services, agriculture and social safety nets to support livelihoods and reduce vulnerability. Somalia's civil war destroyed its judicial system, leaving an institutional vacuum that was subsequently filled by the Islamic Courts Union. The protracted civil unrest and conflicts in the country have also generated high numbers of internally displaced people (IDP): while, in early 2015, about over a million people were in need of urgent humanitarian assistance, in 2019, 2.6 million people were displaced in Somalia and 5.2 million people were in need of humanitarian assistance. The crisis has been intensified in 2020 by the negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the desert locus crisis in the Horn of Africa.
Characterized by political instability caused by Islamic militancy and chronic food insecurity, Somalia has a long way to go before achieving economic stability. Institutions and policies necessary for meaningful economic progress are largely absent, and much of the population lives in severe poverty. Agriculture is the most important economic sector, with livestock accounting for about 40 percent of the total domestic output and more than half of Somalia’s limited export earnings.
The country’s Human Development Index scores (HDI) are strikingly low at 0.285 (UNDP 2012b), which indicates poor life expectancy at birth, low education levels in terms of both expected years of schooling for school-age children and average years of schooling in the adult population, and low per capita income.
Somalia is currently a federal republic consisting of six federal states: Somaliland, Puntland, Jubbaland, South West State, Galmudug and Hirshabelle. Somalia is further subdivided into 18 administrative regions, which are, in turn, subdivided into districts. This division has not allowed for a functional central government to be established, and the country’s capacity to provide key public goods to its citizens has collapsed. The administrative zone that faces the most challenges is South Central Somalia, where Al Shabaab (the militant organization) has its stronghold. There are pronounced differences when it comes to the political, social and economic environment in these zones, and this applies to women’s rights and gender equality too.
Somali culture is strongly patriarchal and is based on the clan system. Gender inequalities are sharp, making the country the fourth worst country globally when it comes to women’s status. Women and girls continue to be considered legal minors in customary law. Further, they cannot become members of the community or clan institutions, and thus are excluded from political decision-making to a large extent.
The adversities of the recent decades have had a profound impact on gender roles and relations in Somalia. Men have fallen victim to the conflict and have died, or have been wounded or migrated in order to escape political or economic hardships.
As a consequence, women have had to take on the burden of managing livelihoods, as well as care for the children, elderly and disabled. Women face an unequal playing field and have to bear the brunt of decades of poverty, protracted conflict, and natural hazards that continue to afflict the country. For example, the 2019 and 2020 desert locust crisis has negatively impacted crop farming, which women are mainly responsible for, disrupting livelihoods and undermining food security.
Women are granted few or no reproductive health rights: abortion is only permitted to save the life of the mother, and caesarean is performed only if the husband and/or the mother-in-law give permission. Sexual and gender-based violence (GBV) is rampant in many areas of Somalia, affecting women and children physically and psychologically and resulting in long-lasting consequences.
Rural areas remain highly populated (54.28 percent of the population) as compared to urban areas. In rural areas, women head 12 percent of the households.