Gender-based violence – December 21 2022

Threat of gender-based violence on the rise in Somalia

Anab fled the drought conditions in the city of Jowhar to Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, in search of food, water and medical care for her malnourished son.

She made the nearly 100-kilometre journey in September with some 600 families, many unable to earn a living and feed their families as Somalia faces an unprecedented fifth failed rainy season.

Over 90% of Somalia is experiencing severe to extreme drought conditions. This led to the displacement of more than 1.1 million people in 2022, 82% of whom are women and children.

Humanitarian crises disproportionately affect women and girls, like Anab. Many of the newly displaced flee to urban cities like Mogadishu and Baidoa where they live in improvised camps, often without access to enough food, water or shelter.

Leaving the security of their homes and communities behind, girls face a greater risk of gender-based violence, female genital mutilation, child marriages, and other cultural and historical legacies of gender inequality.

Child protection organizations in Somalia, including SOS Children’s Villages, have documented a spike in GBV during the on-going humanitarian crises in multiple locations.

Cultural legacies harm women and girls

In Somalia, more than 90% of women and girls have been subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM), which is the partial or entire removal of external genitalia or other harm to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. Globally, over 200 million girls and women live with FGM.

FGM adversely affects the health of women and girls. The procedure interferes with normal bodily functions and can harm a girl's or woman’s physical, emotional, and sexual health, as well as her connection with her family members.The reason why FGM is done is to ensure that girls maintain their chastity until marriage as the family honour and reputation is tied to a girls’ chastity.

Hawa, a 16-year-old FGM survivor, is an avid advocate for the elimination of FGM and wants to become a healthcare worker to care for the girls and women in her community who are living with FGM. She was just eight years old when she was cut. She did not want to undergo the procedure but her grandmother coerced her. She received little or no information about what was happening to her body such as what the procedure was, what the after-effects were. When she started menstruating, she faced a lot of pain and it persists even today.

“This tradition persists in both my community and the camp for Internally Displaced People where I currently reside. Many young girls have the same feelings as I had and are unable to fight against FGM practices. Young girls' reproductive health is severely impacted by FGM practices. It impacts their mental health and has long-term negative impact on their life,” says Hawa.

Nurturing well-being during crisis and conflict

In the midst of Somalia’s humanitarian crisis, hospitals, health centres, mobile sites and community-based interventions run by SOS Children’s Villages Somalia offer much needed medical services. They fill a critical gap in health care, especially responding to gender-based violence (GBV) in emergencies.

SOS Children’s Villages-run hospitals provide services to GBV survivors that helps to reduce the negative consequences of sexual violence. These include psychosocial support, counselling, mediation and immediate clinical management of rape to prevent HIV and transmission of sexually transmitted infections after exposure. Similarly, the possibility of an unintended pregnancy is treated with emergency contraception. Survivors receive customized dignity kits, and women and girls at risk receive cash assistance.

To address GBV, and in particularly FGM, health-care workers are trained in preventive and care services to girls and women who are either at risk or who have experienced FGM. SOS Children’s Villages also advocates to mainstream FGM prevention as a key component of the health sector’s interventions to improve the quality of life of FGM survivors.

How can we work to end FGM and other forms of GBV?

Ending FGM and other forms of GBV is essential to give girls and women control over their own bodies and lives.

  • Invest in education for all and particularly for girls: There is huge disparity in access to education between boys and girls in Somalia due to gender discrimination, including in the home. Education is an important tool to end FGM in the country.
  • Build agency and leadership skills of girls and women: Educating girls, helping them to collectivize in groups and support each other are ways to build a movement around ending FGM.
  • Involve men in the conversation: One of the main reasons why FGM happens is to control women’s sexuality and that stems from patriarchy. While men may not know the exact reason why women go through it, they accept it as tradition. Patriarchal norms can be challenged strongly if men are a part of the conversation.
  • Address the policy and law gaps by advocating for the enactment of anti-FGM laws including a total ban on FGM in the country.
  • Create a strong and vibrant anti-FGM movement within the Somalia: support civil society groups including women and girls led organization that solely focus on building anti-FGM movement in the country.

By Amelia Andrews and Dr. Deqa Dimbil, Members, Global Expert Group on Sexual and Reproductive Health & Rights