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Reproductive coercion puts Somali refugee
women in the line of fire

Three young Somali refugee women
Somali refugee women can face a complex array of dangers, both under conflict and inside their own homes. Image: www.Udeyismail.net

Gitonga Njeru –
Women News Network (WNN)
April 10, 2012

Garissa, KENYA: Following several weeks of military intervention by the Kenyan Defense Forces against Somali extremist militia groups, Somali women have become easy targets for rape and physical assault. But physical assault can also come from home and can also be psychological.

As some Somalian women stand up to their husbands, crushing violence can follow. Because of this, women of Somalia can face violence both inside and outside the family structure. Conflict in Somalia has also brought women untold violence where personal safety is at a minimum.

“Sexual violence remains intolerably high,” said Mr. Martin Briens Deputy from the Permanent Mission of France to the United Nations during a recent formal February 2012 statement to the UN General Assembly. “In many conflicts today, sexual violence is a weapon used to crush individuals and communities. Therefore, these acts of violence are a destabilizing factor and a threat to peace and security… By way of example, hundreds of Somali women refugees have been raped, sometimes in front of their husbands. Conflicts, droughts and massive displacements increase the risk of sexual violence against women and girls.”

But Somali women aren’t only in danger of sexual violence from soldiers involved in armed conflict. Many face the danger of being on the receiving end of violence at home. As a new backlash is forming against ‘empowered’ women as who try to become in control of their pregnancies, violence can increase.

Reproductive coercion can be a common denominator among many refugee women who are forced to bend to psychological and physical demands made by their husbands to have children. With pressure to have one child after another, women can face numerous unwanted pregnancies over and over again. Those women who stand up to the pressure of their husbands are often those who suffer the most.

“There has been an increasing number of cases of physical and sexual abuse by partners towards their Somali spouses. Many of them have been empowered on the importance of birth control and as a result, they have received beatings from their spouses and some [are] even being beaten to death,” said Rukia Subow, Chair of Maendeleo ya Wanawake, one of Kenya’s largest organizations working at the ‘grass-roots’ level that is also strongly dedicated to empowering women.

“The infusion by Kenyan troops into Somalia and [conditions with] some towns being captured by the troops have complicated matters even further,” added Maendeleo ya Wanawake’s chair Subow. “Many refugees continue to run to Kenyan border camps and have become victims of domestic violence launched towards them by their husbands.”

Tension in the border areas between Somalia and Kenya does not help the situation for women. Somalis are considered by a rising number of Kenyans to be a ‘dangerous element’ and ‘extremist.’ Women receive much of the brunt of this discrimination as they represent Somalian culture and family.

With more Somalis looking for refuge in Kenyan camps, towns and cities, it is estimated by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres, that there are over 1,400 Somali refugees streaming across the Somalian border into Kenyan refugee camps each day.

Read the complete story at WNN

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