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Sunday, January 29, 2023
Hawa Aden Mohamed is founder of The Galkayo Centre, an organisation based in Galkayo, Puntland, Somalia, which educates and protects girls from female genital mutilation (FGM) and other forms of violence. It is the local partner of international group Donor Direct Action.
PUNTLAND, Somalia, Mar 13 2019 (IPS) - Aisha Elias Adan was abducted on the evening of February 24th at a market in Israc village, Puntland, Somalia.
Her body was carelessly dumped in front of her family home the following morning. A doctor’s report showed that she had been brutally gang-raped.
Her genitals were severely injured and stuffed with plastic bags, apparently to make it more difficult to collect DNA evidence. She had been strangled to death.
Aisha’s heartbroken mother told the police that she had heard some noise in a nearby compound during the night. On storming the house the following morning they found her daughter’s dress close to two suspects who were still sleeping.
A third man managed to escape but was also arrested on his way to nearby Bosaso town.
Sexual violence is sadly not a shocking occurence in Puntland. Many people say that it is simply “not taken seriously”. For years it has been relatively common place and perpetrators have enjoyed impunity.
The Galkayo Education Center for Peace and Development, an organisation I set up in 1999, supports dozens of cases of sexual violence every single year.
The situation has gotten even worse lately, with gang rapes committed by not only civil society but also military professionals, marines and even the police themselves – men who are tasked with protecting girls and women rather than causing them harm.
Women in Puntland are exasperated by how difficult it is to get people to care and to get justice after crimes have been committed against us.
For many years I worked with other local activists to push for Somalia’s Sexual Offences Bill, which was finally passed in late 2016. This was the first of its kind in Eastern Africa and banned sexual exploitation, harassment and gang rape.
It took a long time to get it through, but in the end it enjoyed widespread support from religious and community leaders as well as the Justice, Religious Affairs and Women, Development and Family Affairs ministries.
We really saw it as a landmark moment and hoped that it would mean that women and girls in this region would finally be given some form of legal protection against sexual violence.
A little over two years later it seems to have achieved very little. It is close to impossible to get accurate statistics, but although we know the prevalence of rape and murder in the Puntland region is high, Aisha’s case is one of the first reported instances. Her story is only coming to light because of its shocking nature.
Somali women – and men – have coming together in protest over the past two weeks, marching to demand justice for Aisha and all girls like her.
However, we know that since there is only one under-resourced forensic facility in the region (in Garowe), and other limitations on police resources, this may prove to be more difficult than we would like.
In this politically unstable region the police service complain of not only a lack of funding for themselves, but also to pay for meals for suspects while they are in custody. In some cases this means that they are released, as it just costs too much to keep them until their trial is scheduled to be held.
While people in general support the law there continues to be some resistance from many in societies, including – incredibly – from some judges, who would prefer that customary and religious laws are used instead of the formal legal system.
This runs contradictory to what is written in our constitution, but in practice it means that Aisha’s family will now be approached by the perpetrators’ families to negotiate some form of trade off.
Attitudes need to urgently change on this as it means that the female victim is never really considered as men make deals behind closed doors. This International Women’s Day we hope that this does not happen on this occasion and that Aisha’s case is brought through the official courts.
Aisha was buried on February 26th. Hers is a truly tragic case, which has resonated very deeply here in Puntland. I hope that it will shake things up. The seemingly never-ending violence against women and girls, where men can evade any responsibility for what they do, has to end.
The only way we can achieve this is to put rapists and murderers behind bars, using proper legal channels and protecting victims and their families for as long as it takes to ensure justice can take hold.
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