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The PREMIS Women in Government Programme 

Empowering Women and Embedding Greater Levels of Gender Equality in Somalia’s Public Institutions

From 2017 to 2022, the UK Government-funded PREMIS (Public Resource Management in Somalia) programme has supported the development of public sector institutions following the establishment of a federal government structure in 2012 in its first phase. ASI is now also implementing the second phase of the programme, PREMIS 2, working with five of Somalia’s Federal Member States (Jubbaland, Southwest, Hirshabelle, Puntland and Galmudug) and the Federal Government to strengthen Domestic Revenue Mobilisation (DRM), with a focus on Customs modernisation and domestic tax collection, and further enhancing Public Financial Management (PFM) and strengthening the civil service.

Through our work with the Civil Service Commissions in four member states (all but Puntland), it has become clear that working for the government in the Federal Member States (FMS) poses a number of unique challenges for women. Discriminatory practises, social and cultural barriers, inadequate institutional protections, and unequal access to services and resources continue to prevent women from advancing at the same rate as their male counterparts. In addition to these inherent structural issues, there are widely held beliefs that contribute to the perception of a lack of female leadership ambition and capability. Indeed, while our engagement with the FMS civil service has been extremely fruitful, our early experience of the position of women within the FMS administrations confirmed the findings of a previous study titled “Somali Women’s Participation in Politics and Public Life.”

It is important to note that these challenges are attitude-based, and are in many significant ways the result of the organisational culture in which they work, as well as Somali culture in general. It is also important to note, however, that a number of “technical” reforms implemented under the PREMIS programme did not directly address these attitudes. Nonetheless, we felt it necessary to address these issues. The importance of gender equality and diversity in public institutions stems from the fact that these institutions administer laws that affect the rights, behaviours, and life decisions of individuals. Ensuring that the civil service reflects the diversity of the communities it serves ensures a balanced perspective that enables the delivery of inclusive services.

PREMIS does not have specific gender workstream, but it has conducted activities aimed at empowering women and integrating  greater levels of gender equality into the early development of Somalia’s public institutions. This has been part of its engagement to put in place the foundations of an effective and meritocratic civil service. Gender equality and diversity in public institutions is particularly crucial, given that these bodies apply the rules that affect people’s rights, behaviour and life choices. Ensuring that the civil service reflects the diversity of the communities they serve helps guarantee a balanced perspective, which enables an inclusive approach to service delivery.

In 2019, the PREMIS team developed the ‘Women in Government’ (WiGProgramme to empower female civil servants to realise their full potential on an equal footing with their male colleagues. The programme supports women in the civil service by enhancing their skills and abilities, challenging power and inequality, whilst building confidence, assertiveness and self-esteem within a safe and comfortable environment.

The programme has been designed to enhance the skills and capacities of women, and in particular building confidence to challenge power and inequality, whilst developing assertiveness skills and self-esteem. Each course in the programme was split into two modules, with a follow-up event some three months after completion of the second module.  Subject matter covered issues of empowerment, equality, management and task management skills and an overview of the governance of the civil service. ​

The programme has the following features:

Lessons learnt

  1. The programme had a significant positive impact. Its goal has been to support and build the capacity of female civil servants, with a focus on confidence and networking. The programme aims to change the behaviour of female civil servants, so that they can better utilise their existing strengths. Measuring the impact of such training is difficult and often anecdotal, but there is evidence that alumnae; have used what they have learned to their advantage.

2. The programme’s blended approach has been very effective and is one that can and should be replicated (both in ongoing engagement in Somalia but also elsewhere). The programme has been a combination of formal classroom-based training, supplemented by role models through motivational sessions, mentoring, a modular approach (allowing women to return to the workplace to reflect on their learning, work on a small project, and put some of what they have learned into practice), continuing engagement beyond the programme through WhatsApp support groups, and follow-up three months after the programme.

3. The training has built a surprising constituency of change. It has been widely discussed throughout the Federal Member States and mentioned in numerous conversations with the programme’s senior male counterparts, who have been unusually enthusiastic about it and, in many cases, the changes it has brought about. Some male senior managers in FMS Civil Service Commissions, Ministries of Finance, and Auditors General Offices have reported that they have been “enlightened” and that WiG has been a positive learning experience for them. They also believe that gender stereotyping has decreased in the areas where they work. This is significant because, to put it bluntly, policies and procedures do not change attitudes and work cultures, whereas senior managers’ reinforcing behaviour is critical in this endeavour. As a result, in formal consultations surrounding both the final year of PREMIS and the composition of any successor engagement, counterparts unanimously agreed on the importance of continuing with Women in Government.

4. One of the strengths of the programme has been the modality of ‘in person’ delivery. This training, perhaps more than any other, is dependent on the relationships it can foster – not only between participants and trainers, but also (crucially) among participants. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 restrictions, more recent iterations of the WIG programme had to be delivered via the internet rather than in-person. Unfortunately, while it is obviously preferable to provide some training rather than none, we have discovered – perhaps unsurprisingly given the nature of the programme – that remote training is not nearly as effective at achieving the program’s goals. We discovered significant differences between residential and internet delivery. There were obvious issues, such as issues with internet connectivity, the ease of participation, the fact that remote training is extremely exhausting for both the facilitator and the participants, and difficulties with some group tasks. Most importantly, an online programme cannot hope to be as immersive as a live event. The fact that some of the participants were travelling outside of their home towns and out of Somalia (a first for some) added to the overall experience.

5. An important ‘by product’ of the programme has been the improvements it has developed in improving horizontal and vertical linkages. Participants come from various states and MDAs within those states, but they remain connected beyond the programme. This has aided in the formation of relationships that have helped to break down the siloed manner in which public administrations frequently operate. Alumna now have contacts in other states and MDAs, performing various functions and at various levels of seniority. These connections can help to leverage synergies, resulting in more effective public governance. This is something we hope to replicate in other Somali training programmes (and beyond).

6. We made a difference by taking positive action rather than positive discrimination. The programme’s guiding principle has been to encourage action rather than discrimination (e.g., quotas). Discriminatory action, even when positive, rarely results in long-term change, which must ultimately be based on a shift in institutional norms and beliefs. This programme has worked with women to encourage them to take positive action, directly confronting the obstacles that female Somali civil servants face (e.g., lack of confidence and networks). This is not the easiest path, and it does not always produce immediate results, but it is more likely to produce long-term change.

The Women in Government Programme is highly interactive, and the way it is delivered seeks to build constituencies of change that will survive long after the PREMIS programme has finished. It builds networks that will then support women as they progress through their careers in the public sector, creating positive examples and role models for the next generation to follow.

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