Somalia: Building women's leadership

BAGAMOYO, Somalia -- The moderator raps her pen on the table to hush the boisterous assembly of Somali women gathered in Bagamoyo, on the Indian Ocean coast of Tanzania. Their voices drop for a moment before the sound level rises again to a heated crescendo.

This group of 60 is being given a rare public forum to share their thoughts on the role of women in the peace process of war-ravaged Somalia, a nation without an effective central government since 1991.

Seventeen years of civil conflict, serious food shortages from frequent droughts and deepening poverty has created what the United Nations calls one of the world's worst humanitarian disasters.

Through it all, women in the largely conservative Horn of African nation have largely been prevented from voicing opposition.

"The war is being fought by men and it is men leading the politics in the country," said Zahra Mohamad, of the women's empowerment NGO Gender, Education, Empowerment and Leadership Organization (GEELO) based in Nairobi Kenya, in an interview with IPS.