Violence against Somali women is steadily on the rise, especially cases of rape involving internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Mogadishu and its outskirts, women's rights activists say.
On the occasion of the United Nations' International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on November 25th, activists called for increased efforts to curb violence against Somali women.
“Somali women are subjected to various forms of violence that include female genital mutilation, forced marriage and domestic violence, but rape is still the worst kind of aggression that women face,” said Zahra Mohamed of the Somali Women Development Centre. “We have registered 126 rape cases and rape attempts during the past four months alone and this huge increase is worrying.”
She said the actual number of rape cases could be even higher because many victims do not report the crime. “There are many cases that go unreported because the victims feel ashamed to talk about what happened to them because they fear rape could bring shame upon them,” she told Sabahi. “This is because Somali society is very conservative and considers rape to be a disgrace that haunts women for the rest of their lives.”
The Somali Women Development Centre organised a two-day seminar attended by various segments of Somali society in Mogadishu beginning November 25th to raise awareness of women's rights and address forms of physical and sexual violence against women.
“Crimes of rape and sexual assault against women living in refugee camps in Mogadishu have risen,” Mohamed said. “This requires intervention from the government and all active parties to stop the cancerous growth of this phenomenon.”
Most rape victims live in dilapidated IDP camps in Mogadishu and its outskirts that often do not have doors or other structures to deter an aggressor.
For this reason, Samira Abdullahi, president of the Somali Centre for the Protection of Rape Victims, said most victims of rape are women living in the camps. “Ninety-five percent of these incidents have occurred in IDP camps as rapists attack at night and, at gunpoint, threaten women with murder if they do not give in to their demands,” she told Sabahi.
Abdullahi said IDP camps in Mogadishu remain unprotected — with the exception of the Badbaado camp run by the Somali government and the Jazeera camp run by the Turkish Red Crescent.
“Confronting this phenomenon cannot be done through slogans and words alone,” she said. “We call on the new government to take immediate steps to protect displaced persons.”
“Female IDPs do not feel safe because there is no one to protect them from the attacks of robbers and armed individuals,” said Farhiya Ahmed, a 43-year-old mother of three teenaged girls in the Kulmis camp in Mogadishu's Hodan district.
“Several weeks ago, one of my daughters who is 17 years old was raped by armed men,” she told Sabahi. “The girl went to a shop close to the camp to buy cooking oil and while she was on the way, she was ambushed by three armed men who dragged her at gunpoint to an abandoned building and they raped her there.”
“The girl tried to cry for help but the armed men hit her with the barrels of their guns and they kicked her,” she said. “After they raped her, they threatened to kill her if she informed anybody about what happened.”
While many women do not speak about rape for fear of societal reprisal, Ahmed said it is important to share her daughter's story to help raise awareness and stop this from happening to other women.
“My daughter is still in shock because this gang rape has affected her psychologically and physically,” she said.
Malyun Sheikh Haider, a women's rights activist and president of the Centre for Evaluation and Development, said Somali women are subjected to various forms of violence such as female genital mutilation, forced marriage, sexual harassment, rape and domestic violence.
She said impunity contributes to the increasing rate of attacks against women IDPs because the criminals know they can commit crimes without being punished. “In reality, most criminals get away with their crimes and this is quite unfortunate,” she told Sabahi. “Criminals should be punished.”
Haider welcomed the position of Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, who issued a stern warning to the Somali national forces to guarantee the protection of civilians. “Any soldier who kills another person will be put to death,” Mohamud said on Sunday. “Any soldier who rapes somebody will be put to death.”
“Criminals must be brought to justice and punished according to law because Somali girls cannot lose their honour while rapists are free and escape justice,” Haider said.