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Somalia, 6 February 2017: Women facing daily threat of violence in makeshift camps for the displaced

© UNICEF Somalia/2016/Rich
Fatuma and baby Seynab. Originally from Mogadishu, Fatuma has been living as a displaced person for the past 10 years. At 25, she already been through the ordeal of a divorce, death of a husband and two children.

6 February 2017 – Twenty five year old Fatuma fled Mogadishu because of fighting and now lives in a single room made of corrugated iron sheets in northern Somalia with her five children ranging in age from four months to 7 years. The room scattered with a mattress, pots and pans, plastic has been their home at a makeshift camp for the displaced for the past ten years.

Fatuma is a single mother and used to work collecting rubbish and dumping it outside town.

“I used to carry garbage bags weighing between 20 and 50 kilos each,” she says. “I normally took five bags a day.”

For each bag she made about US$1. Now a company is doing that work and she is once again looking for employment - but she cant afford to pay anyone to keep an eye on the children when she leaves home. Her seven-year-old daughter Sahra takes over the responsibility of looking after her younger siblings.

“I wash dishes, clothes, clean my brothers and put them to sleep,” says Sahra. “I don’t play and I have no friends.”

There are no schools in the camp of nearly 900 households, so Sahra has never been to school.

Fatuma, who has been through the death of one husband and a divorce, also faces another threat.

“Men come and knock on my door in the middle of the night,” she says. Over the past months, she has been beaten three time and almost got raped by a group of men one evening. “I scream when men advance on me so that neighbours come,” she says. “After a while, you get used to it.”

Confronting GBV

TASS, an NGO partner of UNICEF, has been active in the camp, organizing awareness sessions on Gender Based Violence and offering services to those in need. In today’s session, nearly 80 women from Bulamingis camp come out, many with children in tow. Camp elders are also invited and have given talks condemning any kind of violence against women and children. They also ask the residents not to discriminate against survivors of such attacks as they are often blamed for their assaults and ostracized even by their families. Caseworkers from TASS invited the audience to share their experiences of GBV.

© UNICEF Somalia/2016/Rich
Fatuma’s daughter, Sahra, 7. When her mother goes out to work, Fatuma acts as the head of the household. “I wash dishes, clothes, clean my brothers and put them to sleep. I don’t play and I have no friends,” she says.

“I was beaten three times and almost got raped once by a group of men in one evening,” says Fatuma, with baby Seynab in her arms. A few more women followed. Some talked about how they were beaten by their husbands, how they were harassed by men, and the help they received to help them recover from their ordeal.

The caseworkers use gatherings like this to encourage the women to come forward – to discuss their concerns, make complaints or demands from the NGO and those look after the camp. They also create awareness on what services are available for GBV survivors, from medical, psychosocial to legal and livelihood.

“Every month there are five to 10 GBV cases reported to us. Most of them are wife-beating. There are also rapes, which happen especially when women go outside the camp,” says Zainab Elmi Abdi, a caseworker from TASS. “In the past rape victims got no medical or counselling, and their cases were settled quietly by the elders. Now we are helping change this - we are helping the victims access justice.”

When asked why she and her organization believed in law and justice, rather than elders and clans which has been the norm in Somali culture, she says: “The best a victim could receive is not words, but actions against their perpetrators. But it will never happen if we continue with closed-door mediation. Only through legal procedures, we have a chance of bringing justice for the women.”

A mother’s dream

Against all odds, Fatuma remains optimistic. “One day, I would like to start a small business,” she says. “I want a good life for me and my children.”

And her daughter, despite all her struggles, has a similar, positive outlook.

I want to help my mother. I want a better life, a better house, for her and my brothers. I want to go to school. I want to become a teacher when I grow up.”

In 2016, UNICEF, through its network of 13 partners, reached almost 5000 GBV survivors with critical services. Another 7000 people in remote areas were supported through a community-based protection and referral mechanism. The Japanese Government has provided consistent support for this critical work including the latest grant of US$4.6 million.

“Somalia’s weak legal system and the culture of impunity have fueled violence against its most vulnerable citizens for decades,” says Brendan Ross, Child Protection Specialist at UNICEF Somalia. “We are most grateful to the Japanese Government and other donors for their funding to help us prevent GBV and respond to the needs of the survivors. We need to keep up the momentum now.”



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