The United Nations senior envoy in Somalia on Thursday praised the role of Somali women in promoting a more inclusive and equitable Somali society.

Michael Keating, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, also congratulated Somali women for achieving significant progress in recent years, especially in the political and economic affairs of the country.

“Women kept Somali families together during their country’s long years of chaos and armed conflict,” Keating said in a statement issued in Mogadishu to mark the International Women’s Day.

The theme for this year’s observance is: “Time is Now: Rural and urban activists transforming women’s lives.”

During the 2016 electoral process, Keating said, Somali women made history when female candidates won 24 percent of the seats in the federal parliament.

However, the UN envoy warned that women and girls still face widespread discrimination and numerous obstacles to their professional and educational advancement.

He said these challenges must be addressed and overcome through vigorous legislation, government policies and effective programs.

“Increased participation of Somali women in decision-making and leadership positions is essential,” said Keating.

An estimated 98 percent of all Somali women and girls have been subjected to female genital mutilation, according to the UN.

“Sexual and gender-based violence is a harsh reality for millions of women across the country, and young Somali women have far less access to resources and opportunities than their male counterparts,” said the UN.

Keating called for empowerment of women which he said continues to be a central feature of the UN’s efforts to address social, economic and political challenges in Somalia and around the world.