Women in Mogadishu – Photo Credit: SIHA Archives
In Somalia, cases of SGBV and domestic violence have increased significantly since the country began its response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Gender inequalities are typically worsened by crises and the COVID-19 situation is no different. Women are being hit harder by the negative effects of the crisis, while also bearing the responsibility of unpaid care work, and facing increased levels of domestic and sexual violence. A combination of conflict, food insecurity, and environmental disasters in Somalia has led to the displacement of massive numbers of Somali people, leading the UNHCR in 2019 to characterize Somalia as one of the “largest refugee crises in the world.” Socially-prescribed cultural norms, attitudes, and practices in relation to gender place women in a position of subordination within Somali society, and the many layers of crises the nation now faces have served to deepen the axes of oppression, including the continued prevalence of high rates of SGBV.
The gendered impact and often sexual violence that women are subjected to by agents of Al-Shabab as well as unaffiliated perpetrators continue to go unchecked as the government fails to prioritize this issue. Concurrently, incidences and reports of violence against women within the household have also risen as prolonged quarantine and economic stressors have increased tension. Women and girls are isolated from the people and resources that can help them, and many women and girls will remain trapped at home with their abusers under mandatory lockdown. Activists and rights groups caution that the risk of intimate partner violence, including sexual assault, could increase further in Somalia as more people are forced inside because of shelter-in-place orders. In the long-run, women face unaddressed psychological harm, as well as the physical injuries they sustain, because the suffering of women in Somalia at the hands of misogynistic aggressors is often unacknowledged, and when it is acknowledged, the blame is often placed on the survivor herself. In most parts of Somalia, women are expected to support the family by being at home to take care of the sick and other unpaid household/care work. This places women at an increased risk of contracting COVID-19.
While SGBV remains rampant in Somalia – with 1 in 6 Somali women having experienced rape or attempted rape in her lifetime – the essential services that survivors rely on remain limited or non-existent. Survivor support organizations in Somalia have reported that insufficient medical resources are being allocated to meet the demand for post-assault medical examinations in the country, especially for survivors in the rural areas of Somalia that are controlled by Al-Shabab. Others have noted that overstretched public services and aid agencies have deprioritized the critical services that focus on women despite the risk of increased violence against them due to stresses from the pandemic and its economic, social or psychological effects. Despite women making up a majority of workers on the COVID-19 frontlines, women have had little say in the policy measures put in place to address the crisis.
- The Minister for Health and Social Services of Somalia and the policymakers need to incorporate a gender-responsive perspective and approach into the development of COVID-19 policies. As the pandemic unfolds, there is an urgent need for gender-disaggregated data to fully understand how women and girls are affected by the crisis situation. Understanding the impact of lockdowns on women and men could lead to the development and implementation of more effective policy measures. Similarly, assessing the gendered aspects of minimising disruptions and maintaining supply chains for essential items is likely to lead to better outcomes for all: women and men.
- Policymakers must strengthen the legal framework for addressing sexual violence by signing into law the Sexual Offences Bill, which has been tabled by the Federal Republic of Somalia Parliament since September 2019, and by developing new approaches that prioritize accountability and human rights.
- The Government of Somalia must demonstrate its commitment to protecting women’s rights by ratifying the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol).