News coverage on Somalia has a tendency of shifting to and fro a secluded variety of peripheries, ranging from Islamist insurgency and piracy, to devastating droughts and impunity. The fundamental core, more or less, has become intangible injustice. The generic media portrayal has created a somewhat abstract realm where injustices have become inherent and unalterable in Somalia. In other words, as expressed by a couple standing in line at a local coffee shop in Pimlico, “that’s just how it is down there”.

I find myself writing something along the lines of “do not be alarmed by their remark” and “this is a natural consequence of...” and so on. Classic semi-clichés that assure the balance of our moral compass; a comforting cliché orgy if you choose to get graphic.

For those expecting this warm capsule of comfort, look away now.

Rape is the total disregard of a person’s physical integrity, an absolute breach of personal liberty and a disgusting method of shattering a person’s emotional and mental disposition. The act of rape effectively dehumanises the victims, who are usually women. To paraphrase UNESCO, rape is one of the crucial social mechanisms by which women are forced into a subordinate position compared with men.

Structural and institutional discrimination towards women is successfully reinforced with this powerful weapon. This has become abundantly clear in East Africa these past few months. A 27 year old Somali woman who claimed that she was raped by government forces and Abdiaziz Abdinur Ibrahim, a freelance journalist who interviewed the woman, were arrested in mid-January. They were charged with insulting Somali state institutions. Her husband who supported her throughout the allegations was also arrested.
Her crime: insulting state institutions.

Somalia adopted a highly praised constitution in 2012. It includes numerous articles that address personal liberty, gender equality and the prohibition of sexual abuse in work places. There are laws that prohibit rape. However, these are rarely enforced. Also, there are no laws that address spousal rape, sexual harassment (with the exception of labour related abuse) or domestic violence.
Her crime: insulting state institutions.

The unconcealed intimidation of the alleged victim is one of innumerable cases of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) in the Horn of Africa. In Somalia, legal sponsorship combined with cultural practice affirms intimidation and “shaming” as righteous secluded peripheries in which the international community can report on.
Her only crime: making injustice tangible.

Over the coming months, Restless Beings will publish a series of pieces which will tackle SGBV against some of the most marginalised groups. If you wish to contribute to our work on SGBV, please contact us on info@restlessbeings.org.

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