Somalia is one of the leading countries in human rights violations and has one of the highest rates of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) in the world. SGBV involves a wide range of human rights violations including rape, domestic violence, sexual assault and harassment.
Two decades of conflict and drought in Somalia have forced hundreds of thousands of people from their homes and into camps for displaced people. The humanitarian conditions in these camps are terrible and there is no security, this means that women and children are vulnerable to rape and sexual attacks. The majority of abuses go unreported but the UN reported nearly 800 cases of sexual and gender-based violence in the capital Mogadishu alone over six months in 2014.
In 2014 Human Rights Watch unveiled massive rape and sexual abuses by the African Union (AU) soldiers in Somalia. The report, “‘The Power These Men Have Over Us’: Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by African Union Forces in Somalia,” documents the sexual exploitation and abuse of Somali women and girls on two AMISOM bases in Mogadishu since 2013.
The report stated that AU soldiers had withheld humanitarian aid in order to coerce vulnerable women and girls into sexual activity. Women were also reported to have been raped and sexually assaulted when seeking medical assistance at the bases. The UN estimates that sexual violence committed by armed forces ranges from 30% to 70% of total offences.
Although conflict is a significant factor regarding SGBV, deep rooted cultural beliefs create persistent inequalities between men and women, placing women in particular danger of being victimised. There is a culture of denial and stigmatisation regarding sexual violence in Somalia’s society; it leads to shame and, in the most serious of cases, the exclusion of family members. The result of this is that victims don’t report crimes or seek help to deal with the trauma they have suffered. The perpetrators therefore know that they will not be punished for their actions.
Somalia developed its justice system after independence in1960 but the judiciary collapsed after the civil war and there is no uniform system of criminal justice administration in Somalia today.
However, the first bill to define and address sexual offences in Somalia was announced at the end of 2014. The bill will define rape as a crime against a person and will criminalise gang rape and introduce legislation against child marriage, human trafficking, sexual harassment and offences committed against vulnerable groups such as internally displaced people. The new law will also outline the role public officials and police should play in investigating and prosecuting cases, in addition to criminalising the obstruction of justice, whilst protecting the identity of injured parties and witnesses.
The bill does not address marital rape or domestic violence which is widespread in Somalia. Although the Bill may not be the solution to SGBV it is a very important step because it offers a legal framework from which further changes can be made.
All women deserve to be free from violence that results in physical, sexual and psychological harm. The world as a whole needs to condemn violence against women, find justice for victims and protect and empower all women. Women in Somalia live with domestic violence, fear of rape and sexual exploitation and cultural inferiority. The government of Somalia can and must do more. They must ensure violence against women is criminalised and unacceptable, ensure perpetrators are brought to justice, address gender inequalities and they must send out a very clear message that sexual violence will not be tolerated.
By Mireille Thompson