When we think about Somalia, the image that comes to mind is that of a 20-year-old failed state that struggles to rid itself of al-Shabaab, an Islamic militia group with ties to al-Qaeda and the destitution it has created. However, one important aspect that is largely ignored is the plight of women in Somalia.
Women have been terrorized by the enforcement of the al-Shabaab version of the Islamic Sharia law. Somalia is one of the few countries in which nearly all women are forced to female genital mutilation. In fact, it is practically impossible to measure the number of victims because southern Somalia, largely controlled by al-Shabaab, is out of reach of humanitarian and health care organizations. Being a male dominated society in which males could get away with almost any actions, sexual violence and slavery are widely prevalent. Lisa Shannon, a women’s-rights activist, described an instance in her book, A Thousand Sisters, in which she said that a girl who refused to marry an al-Shabaab militant was stoned to death after being buried to the neck. She was also gang-raped by five al-Shabaab militants in front of her family.
Certain women in al-Shabaab areas, who do survive sexual violence and gather the courage to report it to the authorities, are beheaded publicly. Recently, al-Shabaab leadership publicly announced that it is illegal for women to wear bras because, they said, bras are deceptive, which is to say that those women wearing bras are trying to deceive other Somalis. These are the vague ‘laws’ that women are subjected to and they have no option but to adhere to them because breaking these laws would put their lives in further jeopardy.
With the lawlessness in Somalia, it appears that most Somalis have resigned to their fate but the rest of the world still harbors hope in Somalia. The UN mandated that the African Union increase the number of troops fighting in Somalia from 12,000 to 17,000. These forces have also been successful in recovering certain areas from the al-Shabaab, with the greatest succes being the capital city, Mogadishu. The increasing attempts at fighting the al-Shabaab and restoring peace in Somalia have also led to the establishment of sexual violence centers, which counsel victims of sexual violence.
On reflection, the plight of women in Somalia is an issue that global governance must address just like the military aspect of the conflict. It is important that Somali women do not feel that the international community has given up on them or will do nothing to alleviate their misery. Hence, foreign governments must play an active role in ensuring that peace is restored to Somalia. As the international community, we must realize that a stable Somalia will increase stability in the Horn of Africa, which in turn is necessary for a stable and prosperous Africa.
Aditya Mehta is a College Sophomore from Mumbai, India.