Somalia: testimonies of violence from minority women
This is part of a special series of stories to mark the 16 days of activism against gender violence campaign.
'There is not a single woman here safe from rape. At night, armed gunmen come to the internally displaced people (IDP) camp and forcibly drive women and girls out of their shelters and rape them outside the camp. Rape cases occur twice a week.' Minority woman in Ajuran IDP camp, Puntland
Women’s rights have been particularly violated in Somalia since the 1991breakdown of the state. While women have actively engaged in peace-building, the gendered nature of clan-based politics means that women are typically excluded from full participation in decision-making and peace talks.
Minority women face multiple discrimination. Their human rights are violated as women, both from the wider political structures and male social attitudes as well as, to some extent, within their own communities.
They face harmful traditional practices, such as female genital mutilation (FGM) and early marriage; gender-based violence and rape, particularly of vulnerable displaced persons; economic disadvantage and political marginalization; domestic violence arising from gender-abusive social customs; gender discrimination in Islamic justice institutions where these exist; and gender discrimination in customary law. Crimes against women are often perpetrated with impunity.
'You have to keep quiet and not report the rape because they can always come back and do it again.' Benadiri woman, Puntland
These gender-based abuses are prevalent against women in general throughout Somalia, but they can affect minority women more severely, as the testimonies below show.
Minority women have virtually no access to state legal and judicial protection or remedy where such institutions exist and function (in Somaliland and Puntland), particularly when they are also disadvantaged as internally displaced people.
In conflict zones in south-central Somalia, they have no realistic protection from customary law, even though children, women, the elderly, peace envoys and disabled people are, in theory, protected by Somali traditional law from abuses by warring parties.
'There is not any justice at all; women do not get the rights that they ought to have because no one is willing to intervene on our behalf, as we cannot speak out ourselves for fear of being subjected to harsher treatment than we experience currently.' Bantu woman, south-central Somalia
MRG’s researchers visiting IDP camps in Bossaso in 2009 were told of a disturbing and persistent pattern of rape of minority women, perpetrated by majority men and sometimes by members of the Puntland police, army or security service. One woman had arrived in Puntland having been subjected to sexual violence in the south and en route to ‘safety’. Testimonies (with names withheld for safety reasons) were gathered from IDP Benadiri, Bantu, Madhiban, Midgan and Ajuran women.
'I have been living in Bossaso since 2001. I collect garbage from the streets and the houses and get paid for that. In 2000 when I was living in Baidoa [in south-central Somalia], I was walking down the road when four armed men abducted me. They forced me into their car, took me to an isolated place and raped me. No one rescued me and I came back home by myself…I left Baidoa with some relatives and decided to seek a safer place in the north. I was again raped during the journey between Beletweyn and Galkayo. Armed men forced me and three other young women, including my teenage sister, from the bus and raped us.' Twenty-nine-year old Bantu woman, Bossaso
'I am originally from southern Somalia, from Lower Shabelle. My family used to be farmers, we had our lives but now we are refugees. I arrived in Bossaso in the early 1990s. I live in Camp Ajuran. Besides poverty, our main problem is security, women are constantly raped. I myself have been raped twice, in 2002 and in 2005. Both times I was assaulted when I had gone some distance away from the camp for toilet needs. This is when perpetrators often assault their victim, because they were most vulnerable.' Forty-two-year-old Bantu woman, Bossaso
A widowed Benadiri woman living with her daughters in an IDP camp in Bossaso described to MRG’s researchers how, seven months previously, two men had entered her hut, beaten her and raped one of her daughters in front of her. Though she reported the incident to the police, little assistance was forthcoming, and she was attacked again.
'He [the perpetrator] was arrested but freed the following day; he probably bribed the police officers. A month later, the same man came back with three other armed men and he raped me. The other men stood outside the hut and nobody would come and rescue us. The man said he would come again at any time to ‘enjoy the white bodies of my daughters’. He raped me in revenge for reporting him to the police. I did not report to the police this time. I need medical treatment for the physical damage. My daughter is pregnant now, from the same man who raped her mother. We are desperate. Someone take us away from this land!'
Women also spoke of rape by the authorities:
'In 2004, I was with 12 women going to work in the early morning. A small vehicle came and stopped beside us. Some of the women ran away but they caught me and a 13-year-old girl who came back to see what was happening. We were both taken to Bossaso beach where two of the men raped me and a third raped the girl. I was bleeding and went to a police station to report the crime. Surprisingly, I saw one of the perpetrators at the police station wearing on his head a small piece of clothing of mine. He was also drunk. When I informed the police, they replied that he was the officer in charge of that police station and that they were not in a position to arrest him. The police took no action to investigate and no-one was prosecuted.' Madhiban woman, Bossaso
'The first time in 2002, four men raped me, I at first tried to escape but then I was beaten. I lost some of my teeth as a result of the beating. I felt humiliated and did not report it to the police. Another time in 2004, six men in army uniform attacked me and raped me. I was with other women but they managed to escape. I had physical problems as a result of the brutal rape but I did not have enough money to seek medical treatment, I just took medication from the pharmacy. I did not report it to the police because I was too afraid. I got pregnant. I now raise my four-year-old daughter; her father is one of those six men who raped me. I love my daughter. Sometimes the bad memories come back and I cry in silence.' Forty-two-year-old Bantu woman, Bossaso
'I usually go early in the morning to the market. Five years ago I was with my 14-year-old daughter. We were walking down the road to the market when a car approached us. Six men in military uniform forced my daughter to get into their car and beat me as I tried to stop them…We found her at the same place the following day. It seemed that she was not even alive; she was like a dead body. I reported it to the police and was told that I was lucky that she was still alive. My husband was also beaten up in the police station for insulting the police authorities and wrongly accusing them. He started suffering from high blood pressure as a consequence of the physical and psychological injuries, and died one year later. Six of them raped her brutally and repeatedly till she fainted. I did not have money for her hospitalization...I also tried to contact journalists to denounce the case but I had no evidence and I was overwhelmed with those problems. After five years she still has problems while urinating. She married last year but she has not given birth yet. My daughter is seriously injured and she needs medical intervention. If we had been from another clan we would have been given compensation but we are just ‘poor Midgan, who nobody cries for.' Fifty-year-old Madhiban woman, Bossaso