GENDER ALERT : Carping at sexual violence in Somalia
Somalia has endured a protracted conflict for over twenty years with numerous competing forces seeking control territory and in the process placing the lives of ordinary civilians at risk of violence, starvation, forced marriage, rape and subsequent death. The escalation of conflict has created a precarious security environment with an absence of functioning accountability structures within which human rights abuses and sexual violence have been able to flourish.
Partners of SIHA in Somalia are raising the alarm over a rash of sexual violence committed in Mogadishu, Adado and Kismayo over the past two months. SIHA members of the referral network have documented up to 14 cases of SGBV, raising serious concerns over the increased scale, demanding for immediate interventions. Among the victims is a 16 year-old school girl who was brutally gang-raped by six rapists in the town of Adado. Four of them have so far confessed, and were detained by the police, yet only three days later, all perpetrators were released.
Other cases include an attempted rape of a young girl in Mogadishu by security forces after she left from work. In Kismayo, a 14 year-old girl survived a rape attempt by two armed men although she was physically assaulted. In July 2018, a mother carrying her child was raped and killed in a small town called Sabiib located in the hostile region of Lower Shabelle.
Women and girls in IDP camps are subjected to sexual violence often perpetrated by armed militias with total impunity. Reports confirm that most armed men are dressed with government uniforms even though the veracity of their membership in the security forces cannot be confirmed. Lack of access to proper basic services such as health, psycho-social and legal aid support makes the situation of the victims more difficult. In addition, survivors face harsh treatment from the community, sometimes including their own families who may stigmatize and blame the victim for what happened to her.
According to UNHCR annual statistics reports, 2086 incidents related to sexual violence were documented by its partners in 2017, and 1202 incidents from January to August in 2018. However, the report covers only South Central Somalia. There have also been reports of increased SGBV cases in Puntland state but it is worth mentioning that the regional administration passed the sexual offences bill into a law two years ago making it the first in-state in Somalia to do so. However, cases of sexual violence including last year’s high profile case of gang rape in Galdogob, where the torture and rape of the young girl was recorded and shared on social media. The brutality and continued prevalence of such incidents indicates that there is still much more to be done to combat the issue.
The government has shown stronger commitment towards ending violence against women and girls as one of its key and most urgent priorities. In a speech delivered by Prime Minister Hassan Ali Kheire at the UN General Assembly in New York in May 2017, the bill was one of the issues he raised, stating that his government would work very hard to push it forward. On 30th May 2018, the Cabinet of the Federal Government of Somalia unanimously approved the Sexual Offences Bill.
The bill, which is the most progressive legislation of its kind, has gone through different consultative stages with civil societies, line ministries and other stakeholders. The fact that it was approved by the cabinet was a move welcomed and cheered by many women’s rights activists including SIHA and its network members on the ground. It has raised hopes for thousands of young girls and women who are victims of the heinous crime on a daily basis. Unfortunately, all that was disrupted when the Islamic scholars openly denounced the bill, claiming that it doesn’t not comply with the Sharia Law.
These comments come at a time when nobody takes sharia law into consideration when a young girl is raped or sexually molested. In fact, traditional elders often make unsatisfactory decisions, impacting the fate of the victims and, in most cases, receiving compensation in the name of settling the dispute.
The approval of the bill by the cabinet was seen as a landmark victory despite the country facing violent extremism, on-going droughts and adherence to unbreakable traditional norms that often side-line women in general and victims of sexual violence in particular.
In response to this dire situation facing women, girls and survivors of sexual violence, SIHA Network and its members carried out a number of activities over the past two years in Somalia including grassroots awareness-raising programs, strengthening and harmonizing service provisions for victims of sexual violence as well as capacity building for local civil society organizations providing the services. SIHA also engaged national level advocacy campaigns, pushing forward the sexual offences bill with members of the federal parliament and some line ministries which played a vital role in approving the bill by the cabinet.
In view of this, SIHA recommends a stronger grassroots campaign led by women’s rights organizations and the victims themselves is much needed to realize the significance of the bill in saving women and girls. This will empower women to come forward in challenging impunity and reporting SGBV incidents. Survivors need to be presented a platform to speak out share testimonies which could influence and potentially shift the mindset of policy / decision-makers.