Somalia: Women Human Rights Defenders Face Touch Challenges

“Human rights defender” is a term used to describe people who, individually or with others, act to promote or protect human rights in a peaceful manner. Human rights defenders are identified above all by what they do and it is through a description of their actions (section A below) and of some of the contexts in which they work (section B below) that the term can best be explained. The examples given of the activities of human rights defenders are not an exhaustive list.

The term “human rights defender” has been used increasingly since the adoption of the Declaration on human rights defenders in 1998. Until then, terms such as human rights “activist”, “professional”, “worker” or “monitor” had been most common. The term “human rights defender” is seen as a more relevant and useful term.

Somalia is ravaged by armed conflicts and insurgence waged by the terrorist organization of al-shabab. The country has been in armed conflict since 1991 when the central government collapsed. The country still recovering from three decades long of most brutal armed conflict in the renown history of the horn of Africa region.

In general, women in Somalia are looked down and suppressed through different harmful practices from female genital mutilation and gender based violence to forced marriage and inequality. Women human rights defenders WHRDs are no exceptional to such oppression against women. Women who happen to work as human rights activists in Somalia often face touch challenges that include stigma, violence, threats physical attacks, harassments, targeted killings and enforced disappearances. Women human rights defenders WHRDs in Somalia are brave some in the most exceptional situations.

Here is to narrate the true story of a senior WHRD (Sh. C. S. – The name is abbreviated to protect the identity of the WHRD in question) whose exceptional courage and passion for women and girls’ human rights have made a positive change in her community in Luuq Jeelow, where she led a group of WHRDs to work for  her community in the rural area of Luuq jeelow, in hiiraan region, Somalia. She and her team of WHRDs have successfully carried out advocacy campaigns against the harmful practices against girls and women in their community and were able to amplify their voices and affectively fight against female genital mutilation FGM, forced marriage of young girls and recruitment of child soldiers by all sides to the conflict in Somalia through community based approaches.

Her team was able to document different violations of human rights against women and girls in the rural communities of Shabeelow, and other villages like Luuq Jeelow and engage with community leaders and and other important stakeholders to achieve their advocacy gaols through number of success markers and used the known method of ”do no harm” to protect their target group and established referral process for the victims of torture.

This kind of noble human rights work for a rural community living in a region mainly controlled and ruled by al-shabab forces is not without sacrifices. Al-shabab militias commenced to target her and her team working for on July 27, 2022, and August 3, 2022 by sending them threats which then suddenly became intense in frequency. This alarmed the human rights civil society in the region and usually when a situation like this emerges, joint assessment and decision is needed through participatory method by recording every single incident for better assessment and decision making.

Through nuanced joint assessments, we have realised that al-shabab militias were trying to kill them or abduct them, that forced us to gradually reduce the number of our activities in the rural area of Luuq Jeelow and when threats coming from al-shabab militias increased in late 2022, we gave our employees the green light to leave and we closed our offices and premises in the area which brought our activities to an end and that is why our colleague Sh. C. S., had to leave for her own safety following collective decision reached in late September 2022.

The community is left alone to face their fate under the brutal rule of the extremist militias who continue violate their dignity and human rights on daily basis with full impunity.

HANAHR Advocacy Team




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