The silent war: domestic violence against women in Hargeisa, Somaliland
By: Fatima Nuur, Naima M, Hassan and Ayan Mohamed Jama
Domestic violence is a widespread threat to the rights of women. Its effects can include harm to the individual’s health, mental and emotional wellbeing as well as their social and economic standing.
In Somali culture, it is common for men to yell at, slap, ignore, or abuse their wives. Interestingly, the majority of women in rural and specific urban areas feel their husbands have the right to abuse them if they neglect their responsibilities and alleged duties.
According to the Somaliland Human Rights Commission, the number of instances of domestic abuse they have documented has increased since last year, yet the majority of survivors do not report to the office out of fear of social stigmatization. In the last nine months alone, the SHRC complaint office received 52 cases of domestic abuse, compared to 48 in 2021.
Violation of women’s rights is a violation of human rig:”:”
Most Somali men have toxic masculinity; they feel that the woman is their property and that they have the right to determine whether to throw that property away or retain it. As a result, many women have been subjected to different forms of abuse by their spouses. Hence living gloomy and miserable lives.
The typical Somali woman cannot leave her marital home because she does not have support; her family, particularly her mother and father, will constantly encourage her to stay married regardless of the situation in the marriage.
What makes matters worse is that most women are financially dependent and therefore don’t have access to money that can enable them to live on their own.
The traditional system of family dispute mediation, which is more based on a patriarchal system and denies women rights regarding matrimony, cohabitation between spouses, and custody of children, is promoted as a result of the lack of gender-informed family law and legal frameworks that protect women and their children. If women go to court the judges and lawyers will rather have the families negotiate and will never entertain their pleas and this leads to further violence, characterizing women’s daily lives with anxiety and misery.
The connection between domestic violence and cultural norms
In Somalia, strict norms that define masculinity or male honor in terms of domination are upheld. Unfortunately, the norms have a close link to violence against women. For instance, a man being nice to their spouses was seen as disgraceful in ancient times.
If a husband referred to his wife as “my dear,” among men he risked being teased and referred to as a soft man. To avoid humiliation, the majority of men never showed any affection towards their wives. Men (particularly those the remote areas) constantly sought to avoid their spouse’s company, and this was seen as a source of pride for Somali men.
Such societal expectations and cultural norms compel Somali men to be nasty and devoid of empathy and affection.
Somali society, on the other hand, has educated women to remain obedient toward their husbands and to not trouble their spouses. According to Somalis, a lady who does not wet a pillow with tears cannot provide for her family.
In the last years, Somali women have been adapting to their situations and have started to talk about the problems that are happening to them from all sides by using social media., These problems include rape that they face from their family members and the abuse that they face from their husbands. Social media has become a platform that easily connects many women who are survivors of abuse. When a girl speaks up, she gets a lot of support from other women who are or have been in the same situation, it’s great that women speak up and address their problems in a public way. However, in these social media platforms, you can also see from the comments that a large number of women and many of the men still blame the women who complain about the mistreatment they encounter from their loved ones, in most cases they accuse her of being a loose woman who is naïve and being influenced by the west, others blame her for going against the culture and religion.
Society does not understand that women have the right to talk about their problems as survivors of domestic violence, however, the generation that is currently in its 30s is mostly educated, outspoken, and knows their rights, and it is easy to encourage each other, particularly the diaspora women, to organize meetings, provide emotional support to one another,
“As women, we live in a room where every wall looks to oppress us until we die.”
Case Study 1
I’m a mother of 3 children, my ex-husband neglected us before I filed for divorce. He abandoned his children and did not want to pay any child support or be responsible for their financial needs. He used to abuse me and leave us for days without money or paying the rent. Finally, I filed for a divorce and once it was finalized, I lost my rights as a wife including my dowry.The court made him pay the child support and everything, but he used to pay it irregularly, and this made our living conditions very difficult.
After some time, he would not pay the school fees, and as a result, the children were expelled. Later, he decided to manipulate the children by spoiling them with frequent visits to their school, giving them some allowance so they could trust him. When the children fully trusted their father, he took them away from me and I no longer see them and I miss them.
Case Study 2
My husband used to beat me while I was pregnant. When I filed a report against him, I did not get justice because of the unsupportive legal system. However, I still filed for a divorce as the physical abuse continued. He eventually allowed me to divorce without hesitation. He did not face any punishment and in exchange for the divorce I had to forgo my dowry before my divorce was finalized, I thought justice would be served in my favor but instead, I lost my rightsas a wife.
The role of women in peacebuilding in family conflict:
Somali women consistently participate in peace, whether it is at the country level or family level. They play essential roles, such as mediation and reconciliation, and often compromise everything including themselves. If a man is abusive and violent with their rights, they still stay with their children to prevent family conflict. In terms of family conflict, women are often very active. They try to solve the conflict between their spouses for fear that the dispute will lead to problems such as divorce – then they would lose their children and their family. Sometimes, the two spouse’s families, the side of the man, and the side of the woman, conflict with each other, so the woman tries to bring the two families together and mediate to resolve the dispute. Still, their participation is sometimes restricted, to some extent, by persisting beliefs in male dominance, which leaves limited space for women to participate fully. Cultural beliefs and gender inequality are at the center of the impediments to full participation by women in family conflict resolution. Despite these challenges, the participants believed that women are making a positive impact in resolving family conflicts.
Prevention of domestic violence.
Somali women’s equal value and rights within the household and family must be recognized and honored, so that they can exercise their agency in peacemaking.
To stop or prevent domestic violence against women, we need to establish a just, gender-informed Somaliland family law framework that helps the court to deal with cases such as domestic violence, marriage, divorce, and child custody
Ending domestic violence requires political commitment, implementing laws that promote gender equality as well as legal and policy reforms
Awareness-raising community mobilization and capacity building