Always powerful and never found guilty for whatever they do, because of the traditional justice system in Somalia and the patriarchy. Now is the time for this unjust system to stop from inside and outside the Somali community.
Beats her as a young girl
Harasses her as a teenager or woman
Abuses her as a married woman
Rapes her then divorces her without reason
But she forgives him and remains silent
Because of the culture and power of men
She never gets justice but
Never gives up on her children.
The Somali culture gives a lot of power to men—men can treat women like slaves in the middle of the 21st century without being held accountable for abusing or disrespecting women. Meanwhile, women—who are the real victims—are treated like criminals.
As Somali women, our freedom of speech or finding justice is limited by the culture. Even if a majority of Somalians are Muslim, they are more concerned about honor than human rights. The patriarchy in Somalia is also very powerful, and people are dismissive or rude when it comes to women’s affairs.
Growing up, young girls are always told, “you are wrong for fighting back. Keep silent, you are a girl—don’t act like a boy.”
Media harassment occurs to torture the Somali female dignity. This is done by bullying through negative comments, photoshopping her pictures to make her look naked, disrespecting her gender, verbal attacks in live chats, and many more. There are no laws or systems which Somali women can access to feel safe—instead, she will be blamed for posting about her life in social media, and she will be punished for this in the future.
Women are made responsible for the abuse that they receive. For example, if a girl walks alone on the streets and a man harrasses her, it is her fault for not staying home.
Being forced to marry her rapist
“I was going back from my journalism course that always went between 4 to 7pm every evening. There were no early day classes because our tutor worked during the rest of the day and started teaching classes after 3pm five days in a week. I was the happiest girl and I was passionate about learning journalism skills. During each class, I visualized that one day, I would become head of the news at one of the biggest radio companies in the world like BBC Somali. Then, many people would hear my voice and I could show girls that they can be whatever they want like boys.
“It was raining that day. The weather was nice, and everyone liked to walk instead of taking a crowded bus. I have news entertainment for practicing it as usual. Our class finished a little late that night, because of the performance.
“I took the bus as always. After I stopped at the bus station I started walking, and I felt two boys after me and started to call me, “shshshs girl”. I kept walking and tried not to look at them, then they started chasing and they caught me. “Don’t move, and don’t try to shout, this knife will cut your throat.”
“I started begging, ‘don’t kill me, what do you want for me?’ I recognized one of the boys. We were in the same elementary school but from different classes. I said ‘I know you’, and he replied, ‘if you know me, so what?’ He started to use me while his friend helped to grab my body so I could not move around.
“He did it to me shit stuff and left me there. After I was able to walk, I came home, went directly into my room, and kept everything to myself. I couldn’t tell my mother what happened to me because of all she’d done to find our food and pay our bills since my dad was killed by bomb car he is working to get our food.
“I wasn’t able to talk about what happened to me and what my future looked like after that I stopped going to my journalism class, and lied to my Mother that I didn’t want to learn anymore. After one month, I felt too much pain and was unwelI didn’t know what was wrong with me. My mother told me I needed to see a doctor. “It’s almost one month since you’ve been feeling unwell.”
“I received the worst news in my life. The doctor told me that I’d been pregnant for 4 weeks and that I needed to start seeing a doctor regularly. My heart broke into pieces and my tears were uncontrollable. Who? How? Where could I find the guy who raped me? I decided to tell everything to my mom and uncle, who visited me sometimes.
“My uncle decided to find the guy who went to the school we were learning at, and it’s easy for Somalians to recognize each other. He found my uncle, and his father spoke with my uncle to arrange a marriage so this baby had a father and my family’s reputation would be safe.
“I said that I would not accept getting married with the man who raped me and ruined my dignity. My uncle told me that I didn’t have another option. The only way I would be safe and could keep my dignity was to get married, and no one will said to use their daughter is pregnant or she was walking night men rape her. My mom nodded her head, which meant ‘yeah, you have to accept that there is no other option to leave this situation.’ That was the day I died in this world, my body present with a bleeding and wounded heart.” This was Jamila’s story, 18 years old Somali young women live in Somalia, who faced lack of justice for the pain she experienced but oppositely faced punishment.
Jamila ended up living with a criminal who toyed with her dignity, destroyed her future and gave her an unwanted child when she wasn’t ready to be a mother or take responsibility. Everything happened because of male power, not human rights or Islamic law.
In these cases, usually the man divorces the woman, and she would have to raise the kids without his support. Starting from that day, the community will label her as a widow and perceive all the mistakes in the marriage to be hers. Meanwhile, the man can marry again and again without being called names. He can enjoy destroying women’s lives endlessly.
In Somali culture, if a man rapes a woman, the tradition would be to marry the woman with the rapist without her consent. Families will say this is needed to protect their dignity and hers.
After the woman conceives the baby, she is not respected. As a woman, she never feels comfortable with her life and instead believes that she is a slave and no one cares for her mental wellbeing or safety.
Rapists are never met with disapproval from the community nor held accountable by the culture. Instead, if he admits his actions, he will be asked to marry the woman to protect his family’s reputation without regard to the girl’s dignity.
Hayaat was an adorable little girl—she was the second child of her family while the rest of her siblings were 3 boys and two middle-income parents. Both her parents worked hard to cover their family’s needs, including the education of their kids, since Somalia does not have free education.
Hayaat was a very active girl who loved to learn and dreamt that one day, she would become a special lawyer for women and children. She also wanted to be a supportive daughter for her family, since her mother is busy with work aside from having to cook and clean as her responsibility. Since early on, the culture trains every young Somalian girl under the age of 10 to take care of her household professionally, otherwise she wouldn’t be considered as a filial girl by the family.
She completed elementary school with excellent grades and was going to start high school. This was the start of her dream to become a lawyer one day.
However, everything changed before high school started because her father decided to arrange a marriage between her and a Somali businessman in the city. He did this to “respect” the businessman and receive some financial support through his family.
Hayaat’s father made the announcement and ordered her mother to prepare a ceremony, and to call the family on the engagement day to celebrate. Hayaat questioned her mother, “why do you agree with him? Don’t you know I want to complete my studies and become a doctor? How could I marry this older man?” Her questions were dismissed, and her mother advised Hayaat to allow her father to marry her off because it was important for her father’s reputation.
The ceremony was arranged without regard to Hayaat’s voice, and she was ordered to obey this older man who became her husband on that night. Afterwards, all Hayaat’s hopes and wishes for life were shut off, and she ended up having to follow this man to his home and begin the life he and her family wanted.
There are no family planning programs nor contraception—instead, the culture makes it an obligation for girls and women to be pregnant when they get married. That’s also why many Somali women have experienced the FGM or female genital mutilation, which will make women suffer for being married.
After three years and two kids in the unwanted marriage, the man divorced Hayaat and left the kids with her without any support. However, the family and most of the community saw Hayaat as the cause for the divorce.
Hayaat didn’t give up on her kids’ lives, and began selling vegetables on Somali streets. She is a widow, a single mother in her mid 20s, and she is one out of many girls inside and outside Somalia who must endure this pain.
Marriage abuse is common in Somalia. Furthermore, many men deny the responsibility of their families because of drugs, politics and organized conflicts among tribes, or they leave their wives to marry another woman to destroy her life.
Many mothers end up becoming single mothers without legal and humanitarian support, struggling to pay the bills and care for her kids all on her own.
“It is a forced responsibility to struggle to take care of my kids’ lives when they are denied child support because of me, to ask divorce paper to free from his abuse doesn’t to abandoned his child as father to stop or denied his/her rights as child,” Aisha is 30 years old somali Single mother lives in Somalia, struggling the life of three kids her own.
“Every single day I borrow money to pay for my children’s school fees while their father uses his money for enjoyment and his personal needs. No government support or system can make a man take accountability for his own kids, that leads many kids to drop out of school, for financial and safety reasons,” said Amina,25 years old and a single mother works as cleaner to feed her 5 kids their abandoned to support them.
No protection or law defends women and girl rights
Somalia is suffering from many unresolved conflicts and drought, which make women vulnerable in multiple ways.
Recently, women are also more abused than men on social media. Public harassment is the highest harassment and bullying to all ages of women without freedom of speech or body choices. Most of the Somali men use Islam only to accuse women and bring evidence to show women are wrong, but they never apply the teachings of Islam to themselves to stop hurting and abusing women.
Unfortunately, the laws are broken and not considered even though Somali girls and women need them. Instead, traditional customs which harm women are still enforced to this day.
“I can’t achieve my dream because of negative comments and social media abuse that I receive.” Asia 19 year old living in Somalia has dreamt of being a public figure and a famous woman. she added her wish “to see my country protect my rights mentally and physically so that I can improve my livelihood without harassment.”
Overall, most women and girls from Somalia or living in Somalia are under mental pressure, kidnapped for cultural and traditional practices, and there are no humanitarian movements that are really aware of the issues.
Urgent actions required include local and international humanitarian organizations like the United Nations to work with the Federal Government of Somalia to pass and implement the bill Law of Sexual Assault in order to fight against the unstoppable violence that has been occurring since 1982.
The Somali community and diaspora have to participate in building awareness and providing support for survivors to help Somali women so they can be empowered, educated and understand their right to fight back in cases of daily domestic violence.
Wishing for change is not enough; the situation needs serious humanitarian attention. There are many layers and deep wounds.
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Warsan Weedhsan is a writer. Warsan focuses on women’s empowerment in Indonesia. Her writing aims to uncover the social and cultural problems facing marginalised people and to support women to stand against discrimination.