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Why Somalia must address safety of women and children now

Like all young people in Somalia, she saw the education as the clearest path to uplift her family in central region from the vicious cycle of poverty.

EDITORIAL | The biggest political story in the country this week may be the ultimate deal reached between President Mohamed Farmaajo and five Federal States to adopt a constituency-caucus system of voting. That agreement on Thursday evening could give the country hope of a peaceful transition.

But the biggest issue sticking out like a sore thumb this week has been the incessant stories of rape and murder. Last week, a woman identified as Hamid Mohamed Farah was thrown headlong from a six-floor building in Mogadishu. She had been gang-raped before she met her end, the product of a marauding group of thugs in the capital.

The story has been shameful to the Somali society and women leaders and political figures from all spheres have rightly expressed outrage at the ordeal of a woman so plucked from the bright part of her life.

Ms. Farah, reports indicated, was a recent high school graduate and had high hopes of joining a tertiary institution to pursue her dreams. Like all young people in Somalia, she saw education as the clearest path to uplift her family from the vicious cycle of poverty.

Now she is no more. Ms. Farah’s life should not be in vain. It should arouse our anger and resolve to decisively put away the evil of rape and murder. This is why we endorse calls for Somalia’s parliament to pass a law that will provide stringent penalties for sexual offenders and other pests.

The Sexual Offences Bill, which MPs have sat on since 2018, should be enhanced and passed immediately. Granted, the draft law had some ambiguities which legislators should clarify. It should define issues of consent, age of consent, and what constitutes forced sexual encounters.

Amid the outrage, however, MPs had been debating another law altogether, the Sexual Intercourse Bill. This proposed law has been controversial for suggesting the family of a woman, not herself, can give consent to the marriage.

This is unconventional given that the rights of individuals are not transferable. The global convention is that individuals determine who to marry or have sex with.

We do recognize that in Somalia, the conservative culture has been reluctant to allow people to freely discuss issues of sexuality. But Somalia’s own Islamic background should be a strength, not a weakness in dealing with sexual offenders. The teachings in Koran forbid sexual assault and encourage societies to continuously protect the weak and vulnerable in their midst.

Somalia cannot prosper if some portions of its community are continually endangered by the other half. This is not an absolute condemnation to menfolk in Somalia. On the contrary, it is a rallying call for both men and women in Somalia to work towards ensuring that a girl or boy born in this country has an equal chance of achieving their dreams unfettered.

Indeed, Ms. Farah’s fate was not the only one and should not have been the only one to influence us into a decision. Over the past two years, young boys and girls have been assaulted, raped, or killed.

These incidents demand adequate action to protect the lives of children and women in Somalia.

Due to Somalia’s tragic history of the last 30 years, rape and murder and other forms of violence have been prevalent. It has made Somalia one of the unsafest places to be born, worse if you are a woman. A disturbing statistic from the UN Women says nine in ten women have faced one form of sexual maltreatment or another.

Somali leaders may express outrage. But unless they actually implement a tough call on these pests, it would appear like the country is tolerating it.

Ms. Farah’s death should inspire all of us to ensure such a heinous crime does not happen under our nose again.

We could go back to the basics, such as raising public awareness and reminding everyone of the religious values we live for and toughening penalties for deviants.