Our Perspectives

Ending Gender Based Violence in Somalia

By Victoria Ijeoma Nwogu, Gender Specialist and Head of Cross-cutting (Gender and HIV) Portfolio at UNDP, Somalia

This week UNDP Somalia has added our voice to a global call for a brighter future for women and girls, by joining a worldwide 16 Days of Activism campaign against gender based violence (GBV).

Violence against women remains endemic worldwide with global statistics showing that 1 in 3 women experience violence in their lifetime.  In Somalia in 2016, there were over 7,200 reported cases of GBV. This year, between the months of January and February alone, nearly 1,600 cases of GBV were recorded. Of these, 72% were intimate partner violence, 52% were physical assault, 13% were rape cases, 12% were sexual assault cases, 9% was due to psychological and emotional abuse, 9% were denial of resources and opportunities, and 4% involved forced marriages. Female genital mutilation is considered a form of GBV, and in Somalia the prevalence of female genital mutilation remains high at over 98%.

Gender based violence is a gross human rights violation, but it continues to be one of the most downplayed, overlooked and tolerated violations of human rights in existence. Men and boys are also affected by GBV, but due to a weaker socio-economic status in society, women and girls are more vulnerable and are more targeted. This is especially the case during conflict or political or economic instability. We can change this reality.

Leave no one behind

The UN theme of this year’s campaign is, “Leave no one behind: End Violence against Women and Girls!”. The theme reinforces the UN’s commitment, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to secure a world free from violence for all. This means including and prioritizing the most marginalized, such as refugees, migrants, minorities, indigenous peoples, persons living with disabilities and populations affected by conflict and natural disasters. Marginalized women, men, girls and boys not only experience heightened risk of violence but they also face devastating lack of access to resources, fear of stigma, and obstacles to finding safety and support after violence has occurred.

Somalia has made some progress addressing GBV, such as a comprehensive Sexual Offences Law passed in Puntland in 2016, legal aid institutions which support GBV survivors with legal representation, counselling and advice; and through community awareness and education, beliefs and attitudes which heighten women and girl’s vulnerability to violence are being transformed. But as the statistics above highlight there are a still a number of steps that need to be taken to protect the most marginalized. This year’s theme of leaving no one behind is particularly relevant in Somalia, where during cycles of conflict and drought women and girls are especially vulnerable to GBV, as they migrate in search of food, water and safety, and as they transit or settle into often insecure communities.

Ongoing efforts by the Government with the support of the UN has strengthened the justice system in Somalia, but it remains largely ill-equipped to respond to cases of GBV. The Federal Penal Code in Somalia defines rape as a moral crime rather than a crime against the person, so that survivors risk being stigmatized if they disclose rape or other forms of sexual violence. This contributes to low reporting of incidents to law enforcement agencies. Law enforcement officers require more technical and operational capacity to respond efficiently and effectively to GBV incidents. Women are under-represented in the police force and even so, lack the specific skills or authority to handle GBV cases. The interaction of Somali customary law with the formal system also presents a challenge. In certain cases, clan elders resolve incidents according to the customary Xeer law which means perpetrators may avoid imprisonment by paying compensation to the survivor’s family.  

Deeper acknowledgement of the equal humanity of men, women, boys and girls

Ending GBV will require not only strong laws and an effective justice system, but also social transformation of perceptions about the status and roles of women in society. It will require a deeper acknowledgement of the equal humanity of men, women, boys and girls. It will require leadership from government and from traditional institutions to recognize, respect, protect and fulfill the rights of women and girls.  On a global level Somalia can, for example, show this leadership by ratifying the Convention on Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). In the end, it will require commitment from all members of society to examine their relationships and the responsibilities they bear to promote the dignity and equality of everyone in their immediate environment.

During these 16 days, I encourage men and women, and boys and girls, everywhere, to take a stand against gender based violence.  Do not commit, condone or remain silent in the face of denial of the rights and freedoms of the most marginalized and vulnerable in society.

Orange your world and imagine a brighter future for everyone, one that is free from gender based violence and leaves no one behind. 

Blog post Somalia Goal 5 Gender equality Sexual and gender-based violence

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