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Neil Wigan

British Ambassador to Somalia

Part of UK in Somalia

29th November 2013 Mogadishu, Somalia

Creating hope for victims of gender based violence

As part of our support to the 16 days of activism campaign, I have invited some of our partners to share their stories.

Sagal Sheikh-Ali is a program Coordinator at the Somali Women Development Center (SWDC).  The organisation strives to minimise the number of women who are subjected to violence by empowering them through access to knowledge and greater economic independence.  Their work is supported by UKaid.

 Creating hope for victims of gender based violence

Widespread sexual violence against women in Somalia continues to be the remnant of a country that had to endure over two decades of civil war. Lawlessness and insecurity have brought on the frightening reality that women are no longer in an environment that values and protects them. Rape especially has been a recurrent crime affecting young girls and women. A representative from UN office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) earlier this year stated that 800 rapes had been reported in Mogadishu within the first six month of 2013 and the UN Special Representative on sexual violence stated that over 1,700 women had been affected by sexual and gender based violence in Somalia this last year alone. These numbers are understated as the survivors of sexual violence in many cases fail to report the crime due to fear of reprisal or judgment by authorities.


The most vulnerable are those who live in IDP camps within and outside the city of Mogadishu. As a result of the famine in 2011 and the instability in regions held by militias many have had to flee to Mogadishu seeking shelter and security. By the end of August this year many of these IDP camps where reallocated by the government to the outskirts of the city bringing with it further isolation and insecurity.

Amina, a 14yr-old girl living in one of these IDP camps in Mogadishu with her two younger siblings managed to escape being raped whilst sleeping in her shelter. Her 9yr-old brother woke up to her screams and bite the leg of the man. She sustained minor physical injuries but like many others was unable to identify the man who assaulted her. SWDC social workers and a counselor provided Amina and her two younger brothers with medical and psychosocial support.

Perpetrators are in most cases never brought to justice due to reluctance or inability by authorities to properly investigate crimes. Women who file complaints at police stations are at times ridiculed or thrown out of the station or worse, arrested. For instance earlier this year a rape survivor was arrested and kept in the same cell as her perpetrator. These instances warrant many survivors of sexual violence to decline reporting cases fearing implications it may have on them or their families. The few cases that do end up going to court face weak judicial systems that end up prolonging the legal process. In some occasions sexual violence cases are dealt with under customary law and left to traditional elders to mitigate between the survivor’s family and that of the perpetrator ending in mere payments or livestock to be used as a means of settlement.

The Somali Women Development Center (SWDC) work towards helping survivors by providing medical, psychosocial and legal aid support. Our legal aid team visits IDP camps in all 16 districts of the Benadir region including Dharkenley, Wadajir, Hawl Wadag and Daynile on a regular basis offering legal aid awareness as well as mitigating in disputes that happen at these camps. In the past two years, over 11,000 people have participated in awareness sessions on topics including GBV, Child protection, sanitation and HIV/AIDs reduction and prevention. There have been over 572 cases recorded and provided with referral mechanism and over 1,000 cases of HIV/AIDs referred to medical centers.

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SWDC also provides income generating and skills trainings such as tailoring, numeracy and literacy to survivors that not only empowers them but also helps them to rebuild their lives.

We will be supporting the 16 days of activism campaign by holding events such as awareness sessions for men only at IDP camps discussing topics including domestic violence.  We will also be hosting radio debates and other events to commemorate women human rights defenders day, World AIDS day and the International day of persons with disabilities and human rights day.

Nevertheless, all this can only make a substantial difference once the state strengthens its law enforcement and judicial systems. There needs to be trained women police officers present at police stations assisting in sexual violence cases. The state must also investigate cases with due diligence and bring to justice those responsible whilst stressing that impunity should not find a place within society. Community needs to protect and support its women and girls underlying their importance. Tribal elders and religious leaders must continue to speak out against sexual violence against women and call for more action to be taken against perpetrators.

Learn more about what we do by visiting http://swdcsom.org/