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Sagal leading a men only awareness session through SWDC. 

Somalia, a nation engulfed by over two decades of a brutal civil war, has been anything but a safe haven for women and children. Women and young girls were used as weapons by warring tribal factions. Fighters from these factions would brutally assault or even rape women from other clans in front of their families as an act of vengeance. It was this humiliation that brought about a significant cultural shift in how women were viewed in their own communities.

At the Somali Women Development Center (SWDC), we strive to minimize the number of women subjected to violence by empowering them through access to justice and greater economic independence.  

In Mogadishu, rape remains an epidemic affecting the most vulnerable groups, women and girls. Last year, 800 rapes were reported in the first six months. The UN Special Representative on sexual violence stated that over 1,700 women had been affected by sexual and gender-based violence in Somalia in 2012. The conflict in Somalia created an entryway for perpetrators to commit crimes against women knowing too well that they had impunity. 

For me, working on gender-based violence issues is very personal. Having lived in Somalia, I knew that the country was deeply affected by the war. There are still so many issues that need to be dealt with. I knew I could help and support young women affected by GBV who are in dire need of assistance.  

The biggest transformation that I have seen during my time with SWDC is how resourceful and knowledgeable people are after attending our awareness sessions. I noticed that those who attended awareness sessions were going to their neighbors and friends to pass on what they had learned. Women would go around and say, “Do you know about HIV/AIDs prevention? Well it helped me a lot as I was able to notice the symptoms of the disease and help my neighbor get tested.”

Last year in one of our sessions, an elderly man stood up and gave a religious sermon against FGM. Afterward, a mother of seven children vowed that she would never let her children go through something like that.

I believe that if we want to eliminate GBV from our communities, men are vital participants. Every week at SWDC we hold “men only” awareness sessions. At these sessions, we speak to the men on various topics including GBV, FGM and the importance of child education. We have found that these sessions are successful, and enable men who are usually the head of the household, to bring about substantial changes within their communities. 

We now call on the international community to work more closely with local NGOs to make the voices speaking out against GBV even louder. It is important that we are supported at all levels if we are to make necessary changes in our communities.

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