“No justice for women, no peace”: activists highlight the barriers women are facing in Somalia

25 November 2022 “No justice for women, no peace”: activists highlight the barriers women are facing in Somalia

To mark this year’s 16 Days of Activism against gender-based violence, we hear from our partners and the women we work with in Somalia about what needs to change.

Painting a difficult picture

Mogadishu – Somalia’s capital city – is home to millions of people, including militias and thousands of soldiers. Every day people experience the persistent threat of violence – exemplified by the recent bomb blasts that killed 100 people.  

Across Somalia, conflict with al-Shabaab, drought, multiple legal systems and competing clan structures have all contributed to insecurity. The spectre of possible famine in Somalia haunts international headlines.

Human rights abuses have rocketed, with women, especially those from ethnic minorities, facing constant sexual violence – including gang rape. These abuses are allowed to flourish by a system that – at a deep, structural level – fails to protect women’s human and constitutional rights.

Harmful notions of women’s ‘subordinate’ role act as a barrier to women’s economic, political and social advancement. The Somali Government (like many of its neighbours) is ill-equipped to deal with this, lacking a strategic, focused approach towards gender-related issues.

There are many women in Somalia whose lives and careers have been put in danger by the recent fighting between the Federal Government and al-Shabaab. Al-Shabaab attacks have brought to light flaws in the country’s security situation that have led to widespread sexual and gender-based violence against women activists.

Community elders, who prioritise negotiating settlements within families [rather] than going to court, pose the greatest obstacle to women survivors' access to justice. Even if the elders' solutions violate the rights of the survivor, most families accept them.”

– Shukria Dini, Director of Somali Women’s Study Centre (SWSC)

A progressive bill to finally challenge impunity?

With the passing of the Sexual Offenses Bill in May 2018, the Somali government has demonstrated a renewed dedication to addressing the issue of violence against women and girls as a top priority.

Many advocates for women's rights applauded and welcomed the bill as the most progressive legislation of its kind. Nonetheless, many Islamic scholars publicly opposed it, arguing that it does not comply with Sharia Law.

Women's rights organisations are leading campaigns to empower women to come forward in challenging impunity and influencing policy. They are highlighting the barriers that women activists face, such as ongoing violence by armed groups, dwindling resources as a result of drought, and adherence to repressive traditional norms that sideline women, in particular survivors of sexual violence. Women activists are making the most of limited venues and seizing incremental chances to increase their visibility and participation in public life to voice their demands for equality and fairness.

What Saferworld and partners are doing

Saferworld, the Somali Women Development Centre and the Somali Women's Study Centre are working together to prioritise women's participation in peacebuilding and political processes. Through a joint project, we are seeking to increase the security of women activists and journalists in Jubaland and South West States of Somalia – including those from marginalised groups and selected local women's organisations and networks.

 "[We need] to deepen awareness of women's rights agendas in these communities and grassroots organisations, engage women [and] youth, build the capacity of women human rights defenders – including women's activists, rights defenders, and civil society organisations, and link them to national mechanisms."

– Mama Zahra, executive director of the Somali Women Development Centre (SWDC)

Our joint initiative will help break down the substantial formal and informal barriers that prevent women activists and journalists in South West and Jubaland from fully participating in public life. We’re aiming to create a safe place for women journalists and activists to network with one another and share ideas and resources.

We are addressing a lack of information on GBV by creating locally led ‘violence observatories’ to monitor the safety of women activists and the patterns of violence they face. Together we will use this data to shape gendered operational and policy responses to women's insecurity. Activists will also use the data to engage with duty-bearers who are predominantly men (police, clan and religious leaders) at the Federal Member State level.

During this year’s 16 Days of Activism, we are sharing perspectives from Somali women activists from Jubaland, South West and South-Central regions. Their testimonies highlight the power, resolve and solidarity of women activists across Somalia. Read their stories here.

Read more about our work in Somalia.

Read more about our work on gender.

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