“What can a small army of committed young people hope to accomplish for devastated women in the world’s most failed state, half a world away? Almost anything. The key to success? Empower dauntless local leaders and survivors to design and direct their own program addressing critical needs in their own community” – Ilwad Elman.
Sexual violence is not country specific. It knows no creed, religion, or age. In conflict, rape is seen as an effective biological weapon, used to terrorize men, women, girls, and boys. Too common are the cases where justice fails to manifest in laws and practice. Impunity for rapists, and harmful traditional practices continue to enable and condone rampant sexual violence, gender stereotypes, and inequality. Though it takes many different forms, sexual violence is most frequently sourced as an armament, to degrade, oppress, and destroy communities in times of war.
Across Somalia, violence against women and girls is a major public concern. Sexual violence is one of the most challenging issues for populations affected by armed conflict and humanitarian emergencies. Coupled with the substantial displacement and conflict in Somalia, sexual violence has been especially problematic for the Nation’s capital, Mogadishu. Several international human rights organizations have even documented the use of sexual violence perpetrated by African Union peacekeeping troops against Somali women and girls who were seeking help from the mission.
For nearly 5 years now, I have worked at the Elman Peace and Human Rights Centre in Somalia, a national non-profit organization for which I serve as the Director of Programs and Development. In 2011, I co-founded the country’s first rape crisis center, Sister Somalia. In the beginning, Sister Somalia responded exclusively to the emergency life-saving needs of victims of rape and sexual violence. We offered women free healthcare services, including post-prophylaxis treatments, shelter in safe-houses, and psychological counseling to equip survivors with the tools necessary to heal before reintegrating them back into their communities. But because of the conflict-affected environment in which we were sending survivors back out to, this was not any more progressive or safer for them. We often found ourselves in a position of helping the same woman after a second or third attack. We have since included relocation grants into our services, providing survivors with the means to relocate to other areas where they will have the opportunity to live freely, fully, and with dignity.
My organization has since centered its work with survivors of sexual violence on the principle of aiding women throughout their recovery, equipping them with the skills to rebuild and reclaim their lives, and empowering them to harness their own abilities to inspire change for social good. In Somalia, we have amplified our advocacy for laws that integrate sexual and gender based violence prevention and response programs into the humanitarian initiatives of the Government’s Public Policy Development and Reform. I’m pleased to say that we have been able to generate a conversation about sexual violence that has never before existed in my country.
Now, more than ever, the Federal Government of Somalia has displayed irrefutable political commitment to address the impunity for rapists by which Somali women and girls are victimized. However, very little action has been taken to translate those commitments into concrete action and sustainable progress towards to elimination of sexual violence. We simply cannot continue to afford to allow rampant sexual violence to occur unabated.
I feel privileged to have been appointed Youth Ambassador for Somalia on Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict. I live in a country where young people under the age of 30 make up 70% of the population, and more than half of that figure is young women. But despite our numerical strength, we have not been afforded any positions of leadership. This appointment is not only an important opportunity for me, but for all of the young people I represent in my country. I intend to use this role, and the international platform that it provides, to create a meaningful space for the leadership of youth in Somalia. To ensure that our voices, our concerns, and our solutions to ending sexual violence in conflict are heard. I believe that this role will fortify the on-going efforts of civil society to combat the endemic situation of rape and sexual violence. Together, with the young men and women of Somalia, Youth to End Sexual Violence will hold the Government accountable for implementing and upholding the commitments it has made to us.
Youth Ambassador for Somalia on Sexual Violence in Conflict