Part I: A Conversation in Which We Discuss the Desecration of Somali Women.

Dear esteemed Somali men of letters,

We need to talk. I’ve spent the last few hours debating, dissecting, questioning how I could tackle a  discussion about Somalia and women’s rights in an authentic and humane manner that will ensure you read this piece, and not dismiss it as the rantings of a western agent force feeding you an unsavoury dish of modernity with a side of ‘feminazism’. I know many of you will hate me for this. But no one likes a public spanking, so I suppose your wrath is rightfully deserved. It’s difficult. But I only do it because I love you. Now if you’re remotely concerned about the plight, fate, and lived experiences of your sisters, will you humor me for a few moments, and listen to concerns of your sister?  If you can grant me this favour, I’ll in turn, behave and proceed with this conversation in a manner that is outrageously generous in dealing with this emotionally charged topic; The systematic and continuing rape, plundering, and desecration of Somali women. I’ll resist any urge to psycho-analyse your unwillingness to address your privilege and power, and the consequences it yields.  I’ll refrain from appropiating  gender studies jargon like ‘internalized-sexism’ ‘gender gap’ ‘male gaze’ ‘and ‘intersectionality’ in this discussion. Wait, I’ll even throw away the use of ‘patriarchy’ for good measure… I’m a feminist. A raging liberal feminist at that, so my promising to  put away my rhetorical tools is no small feat. Now that I’ve extended a hand in the spirit of  rhetoric fairness, will you engage and proceed with an open mind, and attempt to remove your privileged laced prisms for a wee second? let us continue. Before we proceed with this discussion, i will preface my article with a moral premise.

I begin with the assumption that women ought to have an equal access to political, civil, social, and economic rights. I will further develop this premise and argue that women have the right to be free from rape, physical harm, sexual violence in all its form, abuse, discrimination, sexual policing, as well autonomy over one’s body and space. If you disagree with these premises, then I ask you stop reading this and return to one of your two chosen favourite hobbies, 1)stealing and shaming the images and spaces of Somali women online  2) Facebook fatwas about the permissibility of wearing the colour red on Tuesdays. I know you gentlemen have some serious work that has to be tended to, so I won’t blame you if you excuse yourself. It’s my snarky way of telling Al-Kabab  (Al-Shabaab) sympathizers and their liberal cohorts that their deflection and derailment efforts at curbing this overdue discussion will fall on deaf ears. Scat. Go ban knickers, or some Phallic shaped vegetables. Better yet, why not go and complain about how Ethiopia through their union with alien zionists are the sole source of your inadequacy and failure as Somali men. I repeat, serious intellectual inquiry and honest debate will do damage to your irrational truth claims, and it’s best you scram before you’re forced to work that cerebrum. You’ve been warned.

Now if you accept my assumptions about the rights of women, and in this particular discussion, ‘the rights of Somali women’, then you, my brother belong to one of two groups. Group numero uno, a rare breed of Somali kings who acknowledged our struggle, pain and triumphs, and continue to serve as allies in our social movement for peace and equality as a nation. You’ve dedicated your life and lended your voice to speaking in defense of your sisters with an unwavering commitment to decreasing the gap between our brothers and sisters. We haven’t forgotten the many Somali men that were the first to say ‘NO’ to FGM, to utter ‘hell no,not my daughter’ to the prospect of a life without an education. Many activists are inspired by your courage and resiliency, and it is your spirit and solidarity that allows us to address our concern as Women without hate or bitterness towards our Somali kings. This article is not addressed to you. Nor is it an not an attack on you, Somali men as a whole, and your efforts in rebuilding our nation (I say this as I anticipate this will be the first straw man argument from the experts in deflecting and derailing).  Then there is Group B, who consist of externally liberal men who believe themselves to be champions of justice and liberty, and do fuck all little to address the disturbing social realities of Somali women. My article is addressed to you, and I will start by asking, “what have you done to address the following narratives, motifs, plights experienced by many as simply the consequence of being born a  women in Somalia?”

Do you play a pivotal role in legitimizing these paradigms about Somali Women, and their bodies and physical spaces? I want you to stop for a minute and really internalize what i’m asking here. Do not give me some general statement about your desire/need for collective peace in Somalia, and then hit me with some disingenuous/deflective line about how the plight of Somali women must take a backseat  to deeper geo-peolitical and regional contextual questions, and that I shouldn’t connect the systematic raping, and sexual policing of Somali women to any discussion about gender inequality. I know these tactics (we all read the same development books and own the same degrees), and we, Somali women, have frankly had enough and want a real dialogue. For decades now, the bodies and minds of Somali women have become a political battleground. From the use of rape as an  cheaper alternative to the Kalashnikov, to the banning of Bras, we Somalis (and many Africans to larger extent) have managed to perfect  the art of commodifying women as the political/sexual property of a man (or men, I hear gang-rapes is now the new pass time of Al-Kabab).

We’ve politicized vaginas (yes i said that word, and no kittens were killed), undergarments, hijabs, sex, love, and gendered politics, education, occupation. We have reduced the worth of our Sisters to the personification of irrational and inhumane notions of purity and property. You don’t have to be a toothless warlord or a religious fanatic to do this. Simply holding the notion that Somali women have a morally enforceable social code to live by, makes you as guilty as them. Incase you’re confused about where you stand in the ‘anti-women spectrum’, I have a simple question that can clear things up. Are rapists more likely to rape  modestly covered women, or hijab-less women? If you have an answer to this question that points to either group as more deserving of rape,then, I weep for myself, my future daughters, my sisters, and our Nation. Newflash ladies and gents, an article of clothing is not what deters nor inspires a rapist, but rather sadistic notions about the value of women (and men. yes men are/can be raped too. pay attention folks. take notes), and is a tool used to legitimize power, fear, and oppression. If you think that the choice of  Somali women in the domain of her speech, career, mate, and clothing ought to be cited as evidence of her inferiority and increase her candidacy for corporal punishment, then you sir, are an enemy of humanity, and women.

Now this isn’t some battle cry against religious fundamentalism, nor a rant against patriarchy (although this piece would serve as an excellent insight into these two realms), but rather a plea to our brothers to stop avoiding a discussion about the lived realities of your mothers, wives, sisters, daughters, friends, and co-nationals. We understand your pain and have suffered side by side with you under a collective national post-traumatic stress dis-order. We’re sympathetic. We get it, we really do. But we will not allow you to deny and derail the legitimate challenges regarding the concerns and needs of Somali women. The New York Times recently penned an article about the alarming rise in rape and sexual violence in Mogadishu. According to this report, “In the past two months, from Mogadishu alone, the United Nations says it has received more than 2,500 reports of gender-based violence.” Notice the word ‘reports’, which connotes that these recorded case only involve those women tenacious enough to withstand the dangers of narrating their experience.

I can list all the facts, figures, and academic studies that list the many horrid ways in which Somali women’s lives play out, but i’m not here for that, as I suspect most of you know exactly what’s going on. Instead, I’m fascinating by the context, and culture in which these horrible conditions can thrive in. What is about our society that can allow a blood thirsty group like Al-Shabaab to own,dictate, and claim the bodies of your mothers, sisters, daughters and wives? What is it about our way of life that makes it okay for any armed gun-men to rape and plunder our sisters? Let’s face it, we gotta own up to our role (that includes us women) in facilitating the horror show that is the lives of Somali women(and women everywhere).

Many Somali women have started organizations, petitions, political marches, letter writing campaigns, appeals to religious authorities to bring an attention to their plight, but all that will fall on deaf ears, if our brothers are not willing to wake up from their collective comas, stand by our side,and reject this premise that our men are our enemies. We are not the property of Somali men, nor Somalia, but autonomous beings that have the right to live our lives free from physical, social, economic, political and cultural harm. Now here’s my question to you walaalo, what next? are your critics right in proclaiming that the Somali male is an enemy of the Somali women, and incapable of justice? We as Somali women have rejected that narrative, and continue to love you unconditionally despite your deliberate efforts to curb our freedom. We acknowledge your pain and wounds as a consequence of a broken nation. We understand you’ve been through some evil shit political and social hard times, but sexual violence can no longer be an appropriate coping mechanism. We defend you in the halls of academia and in all intellectual spheres when they attack you and throw labels of ‘misogyny’ ‘rapist’ ‘inhumane’ ‘anti-woman’ at your chest like a dagger. We stand up and declare, ‘that is not the Somali man, but a mental and puritanical disease in the physical form of a somali man.’ Now its your turn to speak. How long will this continue? What can we do as a nation to heal our sisters? and more importantly, Do you think there is a problem?

I really desire a constructive and honest discussion regarding this topic, and invite everyone to email us at afrolens@gmail.com. Speak your mind, curse, congratulate, dissect my points here, but engage, and do not dismiss. Please engage and wake up. Your sisters have had enough. And don’t worry fellas, I will not let the sisters (myself included) let off that easy. We are also responsible (some can argue more responsible) for legitimatizing this rape culture in our community. Part 2 will address our sisters. In the meantime Walaalo, a penny for your thoughts?

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19 thoughts on “Part I: A Conversation in Which We Discuss the Desecration of Somali Women.

  1. I think rape is a capital offense in Islam and the punishment should be implemented when the fact has been established. If there are no consequences for such an atrocity, we can expect a worsening free for all, why not? Shariah law, in this case, would be very helpful.

  2. Well said! A great article. As a Somali Man it saddens me that there aren’t more men speaking up about the issue. We have a responsibility to speak up because every woman that is raped or attacked is someone’s wife, mother, daughter, relative etc. Now what can I and other members of the Somali Diaspora living outside Somalia in the west, do to help? Facebook groups will do little because I doubt Al-Shabab is going to stop doing what they are doing based on the number of people that Liked a page saying “No more Rape in Somalia”

    • Thank you Koshin for your feedback and honest reaction. You no idea how happy I am to see a brother
      take a stand and declare this trajectory as unhealthy and an outrage…..In regards to you solutions…absolutely,
      this be reduced to simply social media, and we need concrete action. However, before one takes action, our people(our men in particular)
      are silent about this issue, and it’s important that we ignite a debate…But it the meantime, here is an organization
      doing groundwork to bring healing and awareness to our girls…..Please spread the word and check it out
      http://www.sistersomalia.org/..Infact I’ll post an addendum to the article and include their link. Thank you for your feedback…

  3. Best article yet, reality has been served on a plate! I am waiting to see how many Somali men, feel our pain long enough to make change, local or international, this could be as small as starting dialogue in ones social circle and expanding it. Men be human enough to acknowledge the screams of innocent souls.

  4. In Islamic Law, ‘rape’ is not accepted; however, thousand of thousands of women and little girls endure or suffer from it every minute. You will think these things only occur in unfortunate or lawless countries, but not, it does happen on your doorstep. I for one know people who undergone rape and incest (a brother raping his own sister what worst could happen to a girl or woman), which I cannot forget the demoralizing impact it has on their lives. As Muslim and Somali woman it makes me miserable and devastated to observe those women suffering, and I feel powerless and damned to be born from such community. Not that I am saying, I dislike them, quite the opposite I LOVE my community and will do anything and everything, even take them on the highest level of life if possible. Nevertheless, as of Somali women it was about time to address the subject and put it out there.

    • Ilwaad, thank you for your input Sister. I’m glad you pointed out the inconsistency between Islam and these heinous acts against women. There’s nothing in Islam nor any religion that permits the systematic violent abuse of women…..I also think you hit the nail on the head in regards to your statements about our unwillingness to confront these issues. I’ve received emails from folks asking me to ‘have shame, and not discuss rape’….Yes rape is an uncomfortable topic, but I imagine rape to also be an uncomfortable fate….Screw our comforts, and let’s deal with real issues…I also love my country, and do this out of love. I’ve seen too many sisters afraid to address this issue, and enough is enough….I’m not suggesting we wait around for every person to come around and get it, but let’s at least try to bring this topic out of hiding for once. Thanks again for your feedback.

  5. Rape is unacceptable behavior, and if systematically conducted could amount to a prosecutable crime against humanity. I agree with you that Somali men should wake up to the reality of indiscriminate rape of women in many parts of Somalia, particularly in the south.

    What I somehow question is the western, secular subtext of your discussion regarding total and complete equality of men and women. Are you a Muslim?

    • Thank you for your input Yusuf. We’re both on the same page in regards to addressing this problem. It’s important that men come out and speak out against rape. You spoke about about waking up the reality of
      indiscriminate rape’, and I would go a step further, and suggest we speak out against rape in general, whether it be targeted or indiscriminate…I think we’re in solidarity on this particular point.

      “What I somehow question is the western, secular subtext of your discussion regarding total and complete equality of men and women. Are you a Muslim?”

      I prefaced this article with a premise as I anticipated that many might derail the conversation and turn it into a debate over the roles and rights of women. That’s not the topic here. I don’t think my article made any mention of western voices nor opinions, other than that NY Times article. Nor did it attempt to criticize Islam, but I did dismiss the religious fundamentalists as I’m not here to engage in a war of tit for tat dialogue with them. I don’t see how the particular religious affiliation of the writer has any baring on the topic at hand. Let’s not distract from the issue at hand, as this topic is not a place to discuss religion and secularism. Now if one believes the idea that women are autonomous beings is not analogous to the alleviation of rape and suffering, then our position here at Afrolens is that ideas about women play a pivotal role in facilitating these particular crimes against women’s bodies and minds. This is a position we strongly hold, and we also accept that those of us with stricter interpretations of Islam can hold an opposing view. That’s fine, and if one can figure how to tackle the issue of sexual violence and discrimination while ignoring deeper issues of gender equality, then I invite such person to do so, and spread the word to likeminded individuals.

      • We need to situate discussion as the phenomenon of rape that we are taking about is taking place in a particular social milieu, in this case the Somalis. In that sense region has a bearing on the issue. I beg to differ on that. Gender ‘equality’ cannot be achieved in isolation.

        Otherwise, I totally abhor the behavior of those rapists and we need not only to speak out against them, but to think ways of bringing them to justice, if ever.

      • Great reply Afrolens…I do not see the relevance or utility to ask your system of belief and this is the major problem within our community. We like to divert conversations!
        Muslim or alien, rape is wrong and should condemn it with the strongest terms possible.

        Thank you for this great article….only honesty and respect and valuing each other, as women and men, will bring us together and change Somali society as a whole. By honesty I mean, acknowledging that women’s rights and livelihood and persons are treated unequally, and violated as part of our culture and Islam is also used to further justify that abuse and gender inequality. Once you acknowledge the problem then it is easier to find a collective solution.

        However, a problem should not be left to the victim of that problem only but to the perpetrators (men) as well the society that makes it acceptable to sort it out. A society that does not self assess and self criticize, is a dying one. We, men and women, but especially men, need to decide whether we become a healthy and thriving society or a dying one, whether we are in the diaspora or back home!

        No justice and equality. No peace!

      • Greetings from Western Australia
        I read your article with much interest. It’s great to read the way you confront this subject and those to whom it belongs. But frankly, as ever so often, the core issue has not even been scratched on the surface. In this way I feel the author also is deeply complicit in this tragedy. Are you at all interested to still look at this issue…I’m guessing nothing much has improved. Maybe things worsen even. If so, I certainly have many things to add to this discussion. I feel grieved over how much of the core is left untouched by the author.
        Best wishes.
        Sincerely

  6. In order to change things one must first admit that things need to be changed. I think the biggest problem with the whole rape epidemic (besides the rape in itself) is the amount of denial that exists in our community. There are those who truly believe that these numbers (2 500 reported rapes in two months) are fhttp://afrolens.com/2011/12/28/part-i-a-conversation-in-which-we-discuss-the-desecration-of-somali-women/#commentsabricated by the West, this denial poses a major obstacle to dealing with the issue constructively, not just rapes but also other forms of gender based violence. Those who are interested in helping can check out Sister Somalia, an organization which has opened a help center for rape survivors in Muqdishu and they help women with counselling and education, among other things. Their website is http://www.sistersomalia.org

  7. Poignant and humorous at once (Now, once in a while, i try to fabricate my thoughts in a few lines, but never managed to combine humor and severity)
    Anyways, i think we, men, need to recalibrate our parenting strategies, in order to stop giving our boys undue advantages over girls. Because this mess starts right at home, and reverberates throughout every facet of our social/political life. I went to school in Kenya. In primary school, we boys got a nearly homicidal thrashing if we skipped school even once. On the other hand, while our girls were also enrolled in school at the same time as boys, they had the ‘luxury’ to simply drop out if they so wished. Of course, due to the infinite stupidity of puerility, we boys considered this particularly unfair. I mean, no one rebuked our sisters when they come in number 5 at the end-of-term exams (Our schools were, and still are, obsessed with such test-based ranking of students). And the girls had could just withdraw and stay at home, while we boys had to put up with the tyranny of brutal teachers and corporal punishment (More like lynching – how we hated them). And, even when they chose to stick to school, mom made them wash our school uniforms after school. See? Boys (by extension, men), see women as a biological manifestation of washing machines (we didn’t have them damn machines then, but we, men, never really missed them).
    End result? Well educated boys (well, mainly) and semi-literate housewife sisters (am not saying there is something inherently wrong with a housewife, but it should be by choice, and it should not preempt female education).
    Ignoble parentage, me thinks. this is horrible, and it has to change.
    Just one quick question for the writer, though: “Simply holding the notion that Somali women have a morally enforceable social code to live by, makes you as guilty as them.”
    Dont we all have certain moral codes to live by? I mean, can’t we have codes and values, enforceable socially or otherwise, without having to condone abuse? I think our women can regain their deserved worth, without us denuding our society of its moral and social values. (this is just a request for clarification; may be u just misunderstood your point)

  8. I’m from Azania, in the South. We had this problem too as a nation for a very long time. However, together with patriarchy, ours was criminal rather than systematic. One way of dealing with this scourge is if the system creates a conducive environment for women to thrive. It must form a priority of for the next 5/10 years, as a goal to be reached by the entire country. Education, the Arts, Sports, Military and social life must reflect the ambitions of the country to allow its women the freedom they so rightly deserve.

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