Somali women activists are calling for stronger laws and tougher penalties to protect women and girls from rising cases of rape and sexual violence.
Dunia Mohamed Ali, a women’s rights activist in Somalia working with local organisation IIDA, told Radio Ergo that the absence of clear laws on sexual offences was fostering a climate of impunity.
She described women and girls as having been made more vulnerable to gender-based violence by successive crises, which had stripped them of their traditional social protection and impoverished families and communities.
“Women used to be under the protection of their male relatives before the fall of the central government,” she said.
“Conflict and droughts have forced many women to flee to towns where they are displaced and don’t know anyone. This has made them more vulnerable to rapists,” she said.
Speaking during a discussion programme about rape and sexual violence on Radio Ergo, Dunia noted that rape had long been a problem in Somali society, but there was a disturbing recent trend in which the victims were often young girls, sometimes below the age of puberty. Rapes all too often ended in the murder of the victim or victims as well.
Among the latest reported incidents was the rape of a woman in Mogadishu’s Deynile district by unidentified armed men on the night of Eid, the Islamic festival marking the end of Ramadan. She is now receiving treatment at Madina Hospital, according to women’s groups.
Fadumo Sheikh, a lawyer working with Somali Women Development Centre (SWDC) to represent rape victims, said that most cases were ‘hijacked’ before reaching court by settlements led by traditional elders. This has allowed rapists to commit rape and escape with impunity.
“Rape cases carry a jail term of 15 years, but the society has traditions which pressure the parents of the victims to solve the matter privately outside the courtrooms,” Fadumo said.
Fadumo stated that she has sometimes been asked to withdraw cases in which she was acting for a rape victim’s family because the matter was resolved by traditional elders. She said the Somali courts lack the authority to hear cases when the victim’s family withdraws, even though there might be overwhelming evidence to support conviction of an accused rapist.
Dunia added that increasing substance abuse was contributing towards the breakdown of the social fabric. She said drugs such as marijuana were now sold everywhere in the country.
“Men intoxicated by drugs lose their control and judgement and when they find a vulnerable young girl in a hut, they might rape her,” she said.
Sheikh Abdi Hayyi, a Mogadishu-based muslim cleric, said that under sharia law, a murderous rapist should be killed in the same way he killed his victim.
“If a rapist uses a weapon to intimidate his victims, the religion orders the culprit to be killed,” he said.
Rape victims often come from the poorest and most marginalised communities, who are blamed and character shamed when they come out to report.
Sheikh Abdi called on Somali men to protect women, and asked society to stop shaming the victims of rape, saying it is against Islam.
Source: Radio Ergo