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Saying “no” to violence against women and girls – one community at a time

25 November 2016 - In Somalia, UNICEF, supported by partners, has been working with communities to help them prevent gender-based violence and respond to victims’ needs. One such project was the Community Care Programme in Mogadishu.

For 15 weeks, members of selected communities - led by trained community members - came together to build awareness and consciousness about human rights, fairness, tolerance and justice. Through dialogue and discussion, they were empowered to come up with solutions to the problems of violence against women and girls. UNICEF and partners then helped them translate these solutions into concrete action.

Here are the testimonies of three community members whose lives were touched by that experience.

Sheikh Abdirahman, Iman

© UNICEF Somalia/2016/Ismail Taxte
Sheikh Abdirahman (in white) having a consultation with men from his community. He conducts gatherings like this and also through house-to-house visit and Friday sermons s to raise awareness on women and girls’ rights.

Sheikh Abdirahman is an Iman and head of a mosque. He is also a Koranic teacher. In the past he was devoted to religious teaching his community. But since he participated in Community Care, he realized that he also has the duty to help his constituents understand that beating and raping of women and girls is a violation of their rights and must be stopped. .

“Before this programme, there were widespread violations and abuses across the communities, especially against the weak and vulnerable people, mostly women. The first time I ever attended a workshop about the rights and the situation of women and girls was this one. Since then, Allah has opened our eyes to these problems.

The reasons behind violence against women are many but the main one is socio-economic hardship and inequality among the various clans. Armed men from privileged clans could rape women in the full glare of their families and got away with it.

As an Imam, I’ve made it a personal duty to stop these violations. Discussions on women’s rights and that of the most disadvantaged have become the norm in the communities. We now talk about it in Friday sermons and we will continue doing it.

Now when husbands and wives argue, instead of fighting, those who know me would come to my house for advice. They explain their problem; I listen and help them find an agreeable solution. Nowadays, they no longer engage in physical violence. .

Personally, the biggest impact this experience has had on me is that none of my family members will ever endure any kind of mistreatment and violence anymore.

The biggest challenge to prevent violence against women and girls is the lack of education. We need more awareness campaigns.”

Batula Sid Barakow, former FGM practitioner now activist against FGM

© UNICEF Somalia/2016/Ismail Taxte
Batula (centre, in green dress) talks about the harm of FGM to a group of women and children.

Batula is a traditional birth attendant and has been working for the past 25 years. Because of her reputation and medical skills, many families take their girls to her and ask let her to carry out Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) on them. FGM is a deep-rooted cultural practice in Somalia with virtually every Somali girl and woman (98 per cent) having undergone it.

“When a girl was brought to me for circumcision, I would start preparing a mixture of charcoal and myrrh to stop the bleeding. I would tie one of her legs to a person and the other leg to another person. A third person would sit behind her and hold onto her back, while I would be seated right in front of her.

To stop her from crying and to hold back her screams, her family would start beating up drums to make her yelling disappear into the air.

Fathers believed their daughters won’t be married if they’re not cut. Mothers and grandmothers were the ones who brought the girls to me, so that they can check the virginity of their daughters.

In fact I did it myself to my eldest daughter. I used to inspect her every time she comes from school or from outside. If it wasn’t sewn, then I would know a man had an affair with her.

I believed that FGM was a big part of culture and tradition and that no man should marry a girl who did not go through FGM. Now I know what I did was wrong. I can confirm that there is nothing good in it.

As a mother, it really pains me to see women suffering because of my past mistakes of doing FGM. I will make sure that none of my granddaughters will go through such pain ever again. I sincerely repent to ALLAH and ask for His forgiveness for making the girls go through that hell.

It’s bad in every respect. It must stop!”

Hawa Mohamed, survivor of rape

© UNICEF Somalia/2016/Ismail Taxte
Hawa with her children in their makeshift shelter in an IDP camp in Mogadishu. 

When it was too much to see her baby daughter writhing in pain from illness, Hawa decided to get out of the house and take a break. It was in the middle of the night, but she never thought of the possible danger.

“Once outside, I saw a group of men in a car. I thought they were members of the security guards in the neighbourhood.

Suddenly, I saw them pointing their guns at a group of teenagers. But instead they came towards me, and hurled me into the car at gunpoint. They took me away and raped me.

By the time I finally came back home, my daughter was dead. After we buried her, people from *CISP Mother and Child Health Centre came to visit me.

There was nothing that could be done about it because their faces could not be known. It was dark; it was 2 o’clock in the morning.

The staff at Health Centre were very welcoming. They conducted some tests on me and gave me medicine to help me with the pain. A lady counseled me. She gave me courage and strength, and asked me to be patient as what happened to me was a matter of fate and I had nothing to do with.

They also said that this was a common problem and has happened to many others before me. It doesn’t just happen to me and I should be patient and try to move on.”

*CISP - Comitato Internazionale per lo Sviluppo dei Popoli, an Italian NGO and UNICEF implementing partner of the Community Care Programme. At the Mother and Child Health Centre supported by CISP, Hawa received medical care and also other services including psychosocial care to help her recover. 





VIDEO: Stop FGM - a former practitioner's plea


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