Activists in Somalia say women are still at risk of abuse despite new constitutional protections against sexual violence.
Early this week, a Somali court sentenced a woman who said she was raped by security forces to a year in jail.
The woman was charged with fabricating the rape claims after she retracted her allegations following two days of interrogation by police.
She later insisted the claims were true in meetings with Somalia’s Attorney-General.
No action appears to have been taken by the Somalia police to investigate suspects accused by the woman of rape.
But a journalist who interviewed the woman about the claims, Abdiaziz Abdinur, was arrested and sentenced to one year in prison for entering the house of another man without permission, and falsely accusing government agencies of a crime.
A statement issued by five human rights and media organisations including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch called both convictions “a serious setback to war on sexual violence and protection of press freedom” in Somalia.
In the statement, Amnesty International Africa Programme Director Netsanet Belay said: “These guilty verdicts mean that any Somali who is raped or otherwise abused by Somali security forces will think twice about reporting it to the police, and journalists will be cautious of even interviewing victims.”
The country’s new Constitution, approved in August 2012, states that “every person has the right to personal security…. including any form of violence against women, torture.”
But women’s rights activist Hawa Aden said women still lacked the education to demand the rights guaranteed to them by the Law.
“If I don’t know what I can say, what can I do? Anybody can manipulate me and do anything they like,” she told the Nation in Nairobi last November, when she was honoured for scooping the prestigious UN Nansen Refugee Award.
“For me education is first. It is a result that I have seen. Tangible. Countable. Start with education” she added.
Genuine political change and increased security, she said, is still needed to improve women’s rights.
“Peace is in the hands of the men or the clan. People say women are illiterate. But men are also illiterate,” she said. “Unless we get peace, Somalia is dead. You can’t move without peace.”
But peace has remained elusive in Somalia: ongoing violence is causing internal displacement and the total number of internally displaced people in the country currently stands at more than a million— roughly a tenth of the total population.
Activists say displacement increases women’s risk of abuse as temporary shelters provide little protection against sexual violence. In 2012 alone, 797 incidents of violence against women were reported— a figure United Nations High Commission for Refugees Representative to Somalia Bruno Geddo called “the tip of the iceberg”.
And while the Somali Government has received international praise for including two women in its new Cabinet, including the appointment of Fauzia Yusuf to the post of Foreign Minister, critics say it may not be enough to guarantee women’s rights in the country.
“People are excited and saying there are many, many, many [women in the government]. There are not many,” said Aden, “It’s a very small group.”
“Women are almost invisible in public spheres. It’s going to take a lot more than that to make society more equal,” said Mary Harper, author of Getting Somalia Wrong? Faith, War and Hope in a Shattered State.
Nonetheless, rights campaigners insist they remain hopeful that change is on horizon.
Mama Amina Hagi Elmi, who runs a centre for victims of sexual violence in Mogadishu, said she is tentatively optimistic about Somalia’s new regime and the capital’s improving security.
“It seems the security is getting better,” she said. “The government is helping us. It’s not bad. Now, people can walk at night.” Mulki Nur Mudey, a shop owner in Mogadishu, said her life was slowly improving.