NAIROBI, 23 September 2009 (IRIN) – Exhausted by the violence in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, Asha (not real name) fled to Galkayo in the self-declared autonomous region of Puntland, believing her family would be safer there.
Until a week ago, when she was attacked near the displaced people’s camp that is her new home in Galkayo while collecting firewood to sell.
“It was around 11am [local time] when three men with guns raped me,” the 35-year-old mother of five said. “They held a gun to my head and they took turns to rape me.”
Asha tried to plead with the men but they would not listen. “I wish I never left Mogadishu,” she explained. “At least there, I was never raped.”
Asha is just one of the growing cases of sexual violence in such camps, according to Hawa Aden Mohamed of Galkayo Education Centre for Peace and Development (GECPD), an organization that helps internally displaced people (IDPs).
“Apart from a lack of basic needs, the displaced women also have to deal with the constant fear of rape,” she said, adding that it was becoming one of the biggest security concerns for women in Galkayo.
“It has reached epidemic proportions and needs to be addressed as a matter of utmost urgency,” Mohamed told IRIN on 23 September. Her centre was providing counselling and medical help.
It recently held a workshop and invited traditional elders, religious leaders and security officials to discuss the issue.
The workshop intended to make opinion makers and the police aware that “this is a major problem faced not only by the displaced but also the ordinary citizens of Galkayo”, said Mohamed.
Almost all the IDPs are Muslims and rape is taboo in Islam. Following the workshop, Muslim preachers took to the mosques to denounce the incidences of rape in the town, said Mohamed.
Hawo Aden, a resident of Ajuuran IDP camp, one of the largest in Galkayo, told IRIN that in the past two months, eight women had been raped in her camp alone.
“It is happening in every IDP camp,” she said.
The rape usually happens when the women go out to collect firewood or grass to supplement their meagre income. However, “in the last month or so, the rapists came into the camp at night and took women by force”, she added.
Mohamed told IRIN the judicial and law enforcement system in Galkayo was not capable of dealing with the problem. As a result, civil society organizations were trying to involve the ordinary public.
“We will keep shouting from the rooftops until we succeed in eliminating rape,” she added.
The Galkayo police chief, Col Muse Hasasi, told IRIN his force was treating sexual violence like any other crime. “We get a complaint, we investigate and arrest the culprit,” he said.
Local journalists, however, said rape victims rarely reported attacks due to fear that they may be victimized a second time.
“There is simply no mechanism for reporting [rape],” one local journalist explained. “If a woman went to the police to report an attack, first she faces ridicule and secondly, she is then asked to pay for the expense of holding the attacker in police custody, and these are people who cannot afford to feed themselves.”
Asha said she was considering returning to Mogadishu. “As soon as I have enough money for transport I will return,” she added. “I don’t care if they kill me.”