Women's Empowerment and Leadership Development for Democratisation
By Abdifatah Hassan Ali
In 2012, the Somali government released a statement ordering IDPs living inside Mogadishu to move out of the city. At the time, the majority of IDPs were living in government-owned buildings which have not been maintained since the collapse of the government and the breakout of civil war in 1991. A minority voluntarily evicted the area while many fell victim to forceful eviction, all were not provided with alternative housing even though the government promised resettlement plans but that promise still remains unfulfilled. Apart from that, in most cases, the evictees are not provided with official written notice and enough time to vacate the area and as a result their properties are destroyed.
The government forces sometimes use bulldozers and other equipment to demolish houses and the shops of the people. The ministry of interior has drafted an IDP eviction policy which has been approved at the ministerial level but not ratified by the parliament, however, this policy has never been observed whenever eviction is taking place.
As a result, IDP women in Mogadishu have become increasingly vulnerable to sexual violence since the recent unplanned and forced evictions which mostly targeted women and children who represent the majority of IDPs. I’ve helped document 35 cases during February and March for the Somali Women Development Centre (SWDC) as opposed to an average of 3-7 cases per month beforehand.
The evictees are currently without shelter and are seeking temporary shelter in the outskirt of the city in makeshift tents and as a result, they are extremely vulnerable to all types of violence as large families are now living in open lands or in congested houses due to lack of resources to live separately. Sexual violence remains one of the most pressing problems faced by the IDPs who live in insecure areas controlled by armed militias. The rainy season has already started and the evictees are once again suffering from the cold weather, children and aged the most vulnerable at this time.
Among the cases i have documented, there were 14 cases of young girls between 6 to 16 years. One of them is 8 years old who was raped by her uncle who was supporting her in the absence of her parents. The perpetrator is now detained in the central prison; however, the family of the survivor is facing threats from other family members who are close to the perpetrator.
The majority of the survivors do not prefer to report their cases to police stations as they don’t have confidence in the mechanism used by the police officers. For example, survivors were complaining about the lack of female police officers at police stations and their discomfort in discussing the incident with a male investigator. Due to this, many prefer to report their cases to legal aid providers instead. The culture of silence which is practiced in some areas of the country is still a major obstacle for women and girls. As a result of this, survivors are not comfortable reporting their cases due to fear from stigma, in Somalia if a girl is raped or experience any other form of violence she faces both stigmatization and discrimination from her own family and from the neighborhood as well. As consequence of this fear, several victims remained silent and developed STDs which will later be discovered.
Also, the law enforcement and justice institutions have not taken serious actions in prevention of sexual violence cases claiming that they don’t have the technical and financial capacity to tackle this issue. However, according to the legal aid providers in Somalia, there is massive corruption within the justice system which sidelines cases of sexual gender based violence. Among the negative practices in the system includes focusing only on civil cases (land dispute) for financial interests rather than criminal cases which include rape cases. The disregard of the criminal cases is attributed to two reasons: – i) survivors have no money to pay in order their case to be prosecuted ii) lawyers defending their cases are always from legal aid provider organizations who usually do not charge fees against the survivors.
The positive story
The recently appointed attorney-general Mr Ahmed Ali Dahir has shown some positive attitude towards preventing GBV as he attended several workshops and forums organized by SWDC, Mr Dahir also had various meetings with the civil society and discussed with them the best practices of tackling this merciless violence against women at the grassroot level. Early this year, he appointed 4 female prosecutors for his office which marks the first time in Somali history of appointing females for this position. He vowed that he will try his best to use his power for perpetrators of such violence to be taken to court.
On the other hand, the Somali government has yet to form the stipulated national human rights commission; however, there is a parliamentary committee on human rights which should be empowered to investigate such issues. A sexual offence bill has been recently drafted although it has not been yet ratified by the parliament.
Whenever the prevalence of this sexual violence is raised by the civil societies at national level the government always argues that their first priority is security, however, the security situation itself is not stable at the required level. Now the holy month of Ramadan is coming and the opposition group has already warned that they will carry out attacks, explosions and will execute planned assassination.
SWDC has been providing post-rape emergency assistance including basic contraceptive pills and pep kits to the affected victims. The survivors were also provided with psychosocial counseling and legal aid representation. Among the 35 cases reported and documented, nine were taken to court and are now in process.
To all of us
The campaign against sexual gender based violence should be joint and all concerned parties including civil societies, women MPs, women-led organizations and other community-based organizations should play their respective roles in combating the impunity. The government should be a big part of this campaign and should come up with strong preventive strategies/approaches against this violence. Humanitarian agencies should also play their role in responding to the crises as a result of the unplanned evictions.