Sexual Violence Against Women Soars In Somalia

Somalia has been devastated by conflict for decades, and now the country is dealing with famine as well. These factors have made living in what was already one of the most dangerous areas on the planet even harsher for women. Recently there's been an increase in various forms of sexual abuse against women, ranging from forced marriages to gang rapes.

As in other parts of the world, groups in the region are using sexual violence as a weapon of war. According to the New York Times, members of the Shabab militant group, which has been terrorizing southern Somalia, have taken to forcing families to arrange marriages between soldiers and their daughters. The Shabab can't afford to pay its fighters anymore, so instead the men are rewarded with "temporary wives." The arrangement actually just a form of sex slavery, not marriage. There's no ceremony involved and girls who try to resist are killed. Often after enduring a few weeks of abuse, the wives are abandoned. Radhika Coomaraswamy, the United Nations' special representative for children and armed conflict, says the situation is growing worse, adding, "For the Shabab, forced marriage is another aspect they are using to control the population."

Often militants don't even bother with forced marriages, and will simply seize women and girls to be raped and abused. While once a woman's community might have been able to protect her, the famine has displaced hundreds of thousands of Somalians. Aside from the Shabab, unaffiliated bands of armed men or government soldiers are raping women as they travel in search of food or after they settle into refugee camps.

It's hard to see how the situation of Somalian women could improve anytime soon. Women and girls who manage to survive the sexual assaults are often left pregnant or injured, and there's a severe social stigma against rape victims. There are a few groups trying to help the victims, but they're underfunded and subject to the same threat of violence. The country is so dangerous that few foreign aid organizations are operating there, and though many people report that sexual violence is worsening and there's no shortage or horror stories, the United Nations can't even get a clear picture on how widespread the problem is.

For Somali Women, Pain of Being a Spoil of War [NYT]