Marka, 28 November 2022 – Like every week for the past year, Nurta Haji, a young woman from Marka, a town in southern Somalia, leaves home to attend a local community awareness group on issues affecting women. There, she meets with other women coming from all parts of the district.
The group, known as the Women's Networking Group, sits together for hours discussing how to strengthen women and girls’ safety, enhance their well-being, and seek justice for crimes committed against them.
“We feel that it is our responsibility as women to share gender-based violence (GBV) incidents with the administration and the police for their action,” says Nurta. “We are tasked to identify cases, record, and report them.”
“As a woman and victim of GBV, I did not know where to report what was happening to me,” says a survivor. “Here, we are being offered psychosocial support and advice from other women, which allows us to value ourselves and find some relief from the pain that we have gone through.”
Women in this region of Somalia face numerous challenges on a daily basis, such as sexual exploitation, female genital mutilation (FGM), child and forced marriage, and neglect of their fundamental rights. The absence of a stable government in Somalia has exacerbated the problem further due to the lack of legal protection.
“Our mobilization efforts as a group have decreased the number of FGM cases and increased access to education for girls,” says another member.
Despite the ravaging drought affecting Somalia, these efforts have not stopped and have become more critical than ever for preventing the challenges from exacerbating amid the climate crisis.
“During previous droughts, GBV cases used to quadruple, but through the group’s efforts, the numbers have significantly reduced,” says Nurta.
The women's group was first formed in September 2021 in Marka – a coastal Somali town in the Lower Shabelle region, 95 km south of the capital, Mogadishu. It was then replicated in the surrounding villages of Buufow and Janaale, and expanded this year to Golweyn, Shalanbood and Ceel Jaale, all within the same district.
The group consists of 165 female members who are focused on increasing the collaboration between women from different clans in order to foster peace and enhance their security.
The women's group has also helped dispel fears and criticism around reporting cases, traditionally felt by women in the region. “Our problems used to be kept in a shell while suffering, feeling shame and neglect, but things have changed now. We are being heard, cared for, and treated with respect,” explains another group member and GBV survivor.
Since its creation, the group has supported seven cases, a considerable number in a region where it is uncommon for women to report such cases. For many women in the area, this is the first time they have had the courage to come forward and speak up.
“Initially, I was reluctant to share my story because I was gripped by fear and worried about discrimination. This group has enabled us to share our stories,” says another survivor.
The idea of the group came from a community consultation organized by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) under the EU-funded Daryeel programme. The programme seeks to contribute to stability and peace in Somalia and has a particular focus on providing women with the tools to be agents of change in peacebuilding processes.
The region of Lower Shabelle has been affected by decades of instability, conflict, and disasters. In Marka, the population lived for six years under the rule of Al-Shabaab, until the Government regained control over the town in 2018.
The extremist group is still present in many parts of the country and over 500,000 people are estimated to be living under their control, including communities residing in the district. Women living in Al-Shabaab territory are not allowed to participate in public life and are often subjected to different forms of violence.
Since the group’s creation, the women have built and cultivated their relationship with the Marka District Peace and Safety Committee. The local institution documents criminal disputes amongst community members and brings forth cases to relevant institutions.
“The Committee serves as a bridge between victims and formal justice mechanisms. It also raises funds to cover legal fees,” explains Amina Mohamed, IOM's Gender and Youth specialist.
Both the women’s group and the committee play a pivotal role in settling discord through a traditional clan-based justice system called Xeer. In the absence of a functional court system in the district, the work of these community groups is restoring a sense of justice.
“We act and solve a variety of cases, may it be a family dispute, interclan conflicts, conflicts over water points, land disputes, or GBV cases to ensure peace and stability prevail in the region,” explains Ibrahim Hassan, a member of the committee.
Since forming the women's group, IOM has also implemented a series of initiatives in Marka and nearby villages to foster integration among women from different clans.
This year, the group established a Community Policing Forum, together with the police and the committee, to strengthen the relationship with security forces and facilitate access to justice for vulnerable detainees and victims of human rights violations.
Activities have also included enhancing the capacity of women as mediators to resolve conflict by using traditional performances as a platform for women to voice their opinions and provide women from different communities with the tools needed to carry out environmental activities.
“The garbage collection exercise strengthened the interaction among the women, local administration and security actors across the district,” says IOM's Amina.
Both the women’s group and the committee have created WhatsApp groups to improve the exchange of information to be able to act faster upon urgent issues.
Thanks to the group’s efforts and commitment to bring perpetrators to justice, women now have a safe place to turn to when they need to be heard.
“There is finally hope of getting justice for women. I feel our voices are now heard, recognized, and treated with respect. Although there is no court in the district, female victims are being supported,” says a woman from the community.
Daryeel is a three-year stabilization project supported by the European Union and implemented by IOM in coordination with the Ministry of Interior, Federal Affairs and Reconciliation (MoIFAR) and the Federal Ministries of Interior for Jubaland, Southwest, Hirshabelle and Galmudug States of Somalia. The programme aims to expand the initiative to more towns in the coming year.
This story was written by Claudia Rosel, Media and Communications Officer with IOM Somalia: email@example.com
If you are interested in donating, please check IOM's fundraising page.