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Somali women between hope and reality

By Bashir Goth - posted Monday, 19 March 2012


Browsing through Somali websites on International Women’s Day on March 8, two episodes attracted my attention; one was heartwarming and inspiring while the other was disheartening and sad.

Heartwarming was seeing Somali women in Mogadishu celebrating the International Women’s Day in their traditional Somali butterfly attire since the routing of Al Shabab from the city.

In a scene that was reminiscent of the old days before extremist ideologies and alien cultures shrouded the beauty and intelligence of Somali women in mourning garments, it was refreshing to see them come out dressed in their modest but elegant Diric, garbosaar and hagoog or Masar attire and celebrate International Women’s Day in a dinner hosted by the TFG President Sheikh Sharif’s two wives.

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One cannot but be delighted by the transformation that took place in a few months since Al Shabab were driven out from Mogadishu. In their days, women were not allowed to celebrate even weddings let alone international events. They were forced to wear the Al Shabab ordained head-to-toe black cloaks and publicly rebuked and sometimes punished for wearing bras.

It was equally enchanting to see Sheikh Sharif himself attending the women’s dinner. Some may argue and rightly whether sitting between his two wives was sending the wrong signal to the millions of Somali girls who would be watching this event from around the world. But the fact that a Somali president who himself went through a remarkable transformation was attending a women’s dinner party itself reflected the air of freedom that Somali women in Mogadishu were now breathing.

The women’s quick change of heart and garb is also a proof of the Somali women’s teflonian character that rejects alien cultures no matter how forcefully they are imposed on them. Now, Al Shabab can see that just like any people living under tyranny, Somali women had never accepted the unaesthetic lifestyle that they tried to impose on them.  Just like fascism, communism and the countless tin pot dictators that have all gone and left nothing but bad memory behind, Al Shabab will only be remembered by the amputated limps of the youth that they left behind. Hope has returned to Somali women and should never leave them again.

The disheartening episode however was a heart wrenching report and plea for help that Amina Elmi Fareed, a brave woman and head of a civilian organization by the name of CDA, so eloquently and strongly related about the rape and humiliation that women in the Awdal & Salal regions of Somaliland had to endure.

In a press conference that she held on the eve of the International Women’s Day, Amina reported that her organization had recorded 10 rape crimes in the past months.

In a tone mixed with sadness and helplessness, Amina narrated how she appealed to Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs over the last successive years and in fact to all relevant government institutions to bring an end to the recurrent crimes of rape against women.

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She was appalled by how men who commit such heinous crimes against women are protected and defended by the society and how the society dismisses the tears and shattered dignity of women victims.

In a rare and brave repudiation of the complacency of traditional elders such as Sultans, Chiefs, Ministers and the community of men towards rape victims, she said: “ninka wax kufsanaya caaqilkii baa daba socda oo wasiirkii baa daba socda oo suldaankii baa daba socda oo communitigii baa daba socda. Miyaanay haddaba ayaan darro ahayn gabadh xuquuqdeedii lagu xad gudbay ee haddana raggii waaweynaa oo dham isku soo kaxaysanayaan…bal wiil yar oo dhalinyaro ahi haba xadgudbo, qoladan waaweyn ee ninkii wax kufsaday daba socotaa anigu wax laga xishoodo ayaan u arkaa. Waa wax laga xishoodo.” (The man who commits the rape has the minister, the clan chief, the sultan and the community behind him. Isn’t unfortunate to see a woman whose dignity and rights have been violated has still to face all these prominent men alone. I can understand if a young commits such a crime but to see these prominent men of the society rallying behind the criminal is indeed shameful, very shameful).

Amina appealed to the government to enact strong laws criminalizing rape and giving harsh punishment to those who commit rape.

In fact rape has become rampant not only in Somaliland but all the Somali territory. Dr. Ahmed Dahir Aden, Sexual Assault Referral Center (SARC) at Hargeisa General Hospital, reported that: "Rape cases are on the rise in Somaliland year after year. For example, in our office, we recorded 105 rape cases [in 2010] and the number [in 2011] has increased to 145." It also soars in Galkayo, in Mogadishu’s IDP camps.

Despite this disheartening picture, it is encouraging to see brave women such as Amina Elmi Fareed stand up, strongly and bravely against men favoring culture and to shame community elders and government officials for being accomplices of crime against women. Amina and all other unsung Somali women struggling to lift centuries old injustices against women deserve the support of every conscientious Somali. Ironically, it is women who despite bearing the brunt of all society’s ills that have kept the Somali people afloat over the last 20 years of internecine wars and misery caused by men.

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About the Author

Bashir Goth is a Somali poet, journalist, professional translator, freelance writer and the first Somali blogger. Bashir is the author of numerous cultural, religious and political articles and advocate of community-development projects, particularly in the fields of education and culture. He is also a social activist and staunch supporter of women’s rights. He is currently working as an editor in a reputable corporation in the UAE. You can find his blog here.

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