The United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women Rashida Manjoo spoke to reporters in Nairobi Friday about her just-concluded mission to Somalia, where she examined the occurrence of gender-based violence there.
One of the things that struck Manjoo during her 10-day mission was what she called the “privatization” of violence against women and girls in the wider Somali society.
She noted that a lot of attention has been paid to sexual violence occurring within camps for the internally displaced.
“But I also know there is rape going on outside the IDP camps in the host communities," Manjoo said. "There might be a culture of silence and denial about it, but it is going on. Domestic violence is going on. I think the challenge is, how do we break silence, how do we move away from denial that there is a problem?”
In the rush to publicize the latest political and military machinations of the 20-year-old civil war, Manjoo said most media, agencies, governments and others ignore the lives of women behind closed doors.
For instance, she cited one study that estimates that 98 percent of Somali girls and women undergo female genital mutilation - a cultural practice being increasingly banned across Africa - in the mistaken belief that it is a religious requirement.
Other cultural and traditional beliefs facilitate or even encourage physical, emotional, and sexual violence against women and girls in homes in Somalia and around the world.
But, Manjoo said, in a volatile country where infrastructure and functioning state institutions basically do not exist, finding out the nature and prevalence of different forms of gender-based violence is daunting.
“The Somali government will need data, will need information in terms of its priorities when it comes to laws and policies and programs," she noted. "In the absence of that, how will they develop laws, policies, and programs? How will they know what they need?”
She added that Somali authorities have taken some measures, such as a draft law against female genital mutilation in the Puntland region, the creation of a task force on gender-based violence by the transitional government, and the appointment of women as ministers and members of parliament.
She said the government and other national and international agencies have a long way to go in assisting women and girls experiencing violence, or even giving them a safe forum in which to express themselves.
Manjoo said the lack of attention being paid to domestic violence, rape, female genital mutilation, and other forms of gender-based violence occurring in homes has lead to impunity, which only perpetuates the problem.
“Let me stress that the current manifestations of violence against women and girls is a violation of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of women. Somalia has the opportunity at this crucial time to promote human rights for all, and importantly to place the issue of violence against women on the national agenda,” she said.
Manjoo's Somalia tour ran from December 9 -16 and included consultations with officials from the transitional government, U.N. agencies, international aid groups, African Union peacekeeping troops, and civil society groups.
She is expected to present her findings in a report set to be released in June 2012 to the U.N. Human Rights Council.