Militarization Specter and its Impact on Somali Women

Somalia, like many other African countries, has endured sustained militarization and armed conflict. This phenomenon has become a significant obstacle to Somalia’s progress towards peace, justice, democratization, and development. As a rule of thumb: where militarization increases, so does death and destruction, and human rights abuses. And, yes, so does senseless wars.

Protracted wars, civil or otherwise, victimizes predominantly women and children; and nowhere is this fact more pronounced than in Somalia. Whether in refugee camps, or in the streets and neighborhoods of Somali cities, the grim images of women and children in profound state of anguish are evident. Nevertheless, their stories are seldom the dominant narrative.

Since the collapse of the Somali state in 1991, Somali women have played vital roles at the most dreadful period of their country’s history; especially in the social and economic sectors of the society.

While the horrific violence that is inflicted on individuals, families, and communities had traumatizing and debilitating effects on generations across the society, almost always women and children are affected the most. Wars leave their lives shattered, their families scattered, their support system devastated, and forces them to helplessly flee to remote areas and unfamiliar territories for safety.

Over the past two decades, under these violent conflicts, there has been a wide spread rape and sexual slavery (as it became a weapon of warfare), mass executions, destruction of agricultural land, looting of livestock, destruction of water supplies, loss of homes, displacements that continue to cause interrupted or loss of education, increased poverty and emotional and psychological scars that will last for generations.

Insecurity created by the conflict between warring armed forces such as Al-Shabaab on one hand, and the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), African Union forces (AMISOM), and Ahlul Sunnah wal Jama’ah on the other, has displaced hundreds of thousands of Somalis, particularly women, children and elderly. This continuous deadly game of tit for tat between these forces endangered and killed more innocent people.

Currently, there are nearly 1.5 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) and nearly 3.5 million that are on the verge of starvation. Somalia remains one of the worst humanitarian catastrophes in the world.

The United States Agency of International Development’s (USAID) June 1, 2009 report shows that 3.5 million are in need of humanitarian aid, 650,000 are children under the age of five.

Under this unrelenting armed conflict, human rights violations committed against civilians coupled with the worst drought in decades and lack of sustainable systems to provide desperately needed water and rations has deteriorated the hope of Somalia’s already vulnerable civilians.

Mothers give birth to children and raise them under such uncertainties. In Afgooye corridor alone, about 30kms south of Mogadishu, where it is home to about 400,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), the United Nations Children’s Fund, confirms that one quarter of the refugees around Afgooye are younger than the age of five.

Refugee camps such as Dadaab (in Kenya) which was originally built for maximum occupancy of 90,000 is now overpopulated with nearly 300,000 refugees of mostly Somalis, thus making it the world’s largest refugee camp. Needless to say, these conditions further expose women and children and make them more defenseless.

There have been reports of sexual assault and violence against Somali women and girls over the years in this camp by the Kenyan border guards and the same police officers that suppose to protect these vulnerable refugees.

Meghan Rhoad, women’s rights researcher of Human Rights Watch exposes the Kenyan border policemen as rapists and extortionists. In her latest research, Rhoad documents the story of Nasra, a Somali refugee who 12 days after giving birth to her daughter arrived in Dadaab and was kicked and raped by the Kenyan officers with her newborn laying only arms’ length away.

The profound burden of pain endured by Somali women is dauntingly telling, and it is a testimony of their profound resilience. And nothing is more telling than the story of a young mother who, on one hand, was dealing with the traumatic experience of loosing a father, a husband, a brother, a cousin, and a father in law, and on the other, was subjected to repeated rape, who decided to move-on with her life as she was the breadwinner of her young children and extended family.

Sadly, in conflicts there has been more emphasis on security oriented issues rather than the human rights, humanitarian efforts and sustainable development frameworks.

The recently found Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the United Nations scrutinizes human rights practices of all member states once every four years. Somalia is a signatory of several human rights treaties and is due for review on this month.

Since the current Somali government has submitted National Report on Human Rights to the General Assembly, implementing the anticipated recommendations is imperative

"For Somali citizens, this is a milestone and step forward for the healing process to start and the government to implement the recommendations that will come forward. Accountability paves the way for forgiveness and reconciliation," said Huda Yusuf, Executive Director of African Rights Monitor-ARM.

For the first time in 20 years, this review affords Somali citizens with sense of hope as it will lay the foundation to end the culture of impunity on human right violations. Their grievances on those injustices will be heard on the world stage.