Read, Debate: Engage.
Read, Debate: Engage.
map tooltip
Humans

Women & Rape in Somalia: One Filmmaker's Stance Against Sexual Violence

April 21st, 2013
in:Humans
by:Sara Jabril
located in:Somalia
tags:Africa, rape, Sara Jabril, sexual abuse, sexual violence, Somalia, UN, women, Women's Right

Somalia might no longer be thought of as a failed state: perhaps, today, we can instead refer to it as a fragile democracy.

The presidential election of September 2012 heralded the troubled nation’s first, if awkward, steps towards a free democratic vote in several decades. Somalis in and around Mogadishu rejoiced as a new government was sworn into office and militants of the al-shabaab group were driven out of the capital by African Union (AU) troops. And yet, despite this recent upward trajectory, the freedoms granted in Somalia are still so very fragile that a brave Somali filmmaker had to carry out her most recent project undercover.

This inspiring young woman – who prefers not to be named – is in the process of making a documentary shedding light on the continuing issue of sexual violence against women. In order to protect her identity, I refer to her as Fatima. Recent events prove this precaution is well justified.

xx

In late March this year, a women’s rights reporter was the third journalist to be killed in what has been a series of deadly attacks. The case of Lul Ali Osman Barake, who was raped by five soldiers, and then jailed for allegedly defaming the government and the police, was another case that sparked worldwide outrage and acted as a stark reminder of the country’s fragility. Although Barake was later released after winning an appeal against her sentence, the Somali journalist who interviewed her remained in prison for two months.

“No female victim in Somalia will feel able to talk about this. Rape victims will stay silent in their home and not tell anyone“, Barake told The Guardian in her first interview after her acquittal.

Onlookers have attributed the ‘recent wave’ of sexual abuse to the country’s more current events and instability as associated with the rise of al-shabaab or the plague of severe famine, displacement, overcrowded IDP (internally displaced peoples) camps and other factors that put women at risk. According to Fatima, the brave filmmaker, this is an incomplete if not faulty analysis.

Her journey began in 2010, when she returned to Somalia for the first time in 18 years. Although overwhelmed by the country’s beauty, the state of women left Fatima feeling uneasy. Upon her return she approached several women in the diaspora and was deeply shocked by her findings. “Every second woman I spoke with either knew someone personally or knew of someone, who had been raped or sexually assaulted – and this dates as far back as 1991”, she tells me.

The shocking reality on the ground compelled Fatima to get involved. She decided to make a documentary about the plight of women in Somalia. The first step in taking the project to the next level was to shoot a trailer. While on a second trip to her country of origin, Fatima interviewed several women who had experienced sexual abuse, many of whom were minors.

“One girl was just 16-years-old when she was raped. You can see her speaking on camera when you watch the trailer, but it took a lot for her to feel able to talk about what happened to her. After she was raped, she stopped speaking almost completely. Being in the same room with the girl, one could really feel how much damage and trauma the experience had caused her”, Fatima recalls.

Screen Shot 2013-04-20 at 1.13.31 AMIn this grim tale of sexual abuse and violence against women, the story of how and where Fatima met the victims she interviewed, is one filled with bravery and hope. In 2012, a 63-year-old former refugee, known by most as “Mama Hawa”, was awarded the Nansen Refugee Award for her humanitarian work. Hawa Aden Mohamed is the founder and director of the Galkayo Education Center for Peace and Development, located in Somalia’s Puntland region. The center offers an education, leisure activities and a home to displaced Somali women and girls, many of whom have experienced sexual violence. Fatima says, she owes the completion of her filming to date entirely to Mama Hawa and Hawa’s sister Amina, known as Aamow. “They gave me a place to stay, they gave me food to eat, and introduced me to the girls”, her voice lights up as she speaks about Hawa and Aamow, “seeing what they do for Somalis on a daily basis, it is simply incredible”. Mama Hawa’s Galkayo Centre is a safe haven for victims of sexual violence, where they get the support they so desperately need.

The center succeeds where the country’s fragile institutions fail. In far too many cases, the perpetrators will never face any punitive consequences for their appalling actions; fear may even prevent the victims from speaking out in the first place.

Cases such as the one of Lul Ali Osman Barake send a detrimental message to Somalia’s women, that the dignity of their bodies does not matter, that they do not matter. Women such as Mama Hawa and Fatima are out to change this. The Galkayo Education Center for Peace and Development gives women and girls a voice, an education and protection. For the victims of sexual violence at the center, who are absolved from any false notions of responsibility, this conveys an important message. You matter and you have a voice. What you have experienced is nothing less than a despicable crime. You are not guilty.

In a society in which women’s bodies are still closely connected to ideals of honour, this is a message of utmost importance for young girls in particular. Fatima’s hope is for her film to act as a much needed wake-up call that will shed some light on the crimes against Somali women, and the shame and stigma connected to acts of sexual violence. After all, the women of Somalia are the very backbone of its society.

If you would like to donate to the film project please email: contact@haanfilms.com

Click here to make a donation to Mama Hawa’s Galkayo Education Center for Peace and Development

Article written by:
Sara Jabril
Author
Current Map: Our coverage

Read more about