My name is Ilwad Elman and I live and work in Mogadishu, Somalia. A country recently ranked as the second worst place in the world to be a woman. Acts of sexual violence usually go unpunished and rapists are rarely tried or convicted, and even where justice is initiated, the victims are not provided any form of protection, compensation or recourse. Victims are treated like criminals and those who dare seek justice, are often retaliated against in some cases perpetrators are even forced to marry their victims.
Mentioning the word rape or providing services to survivors was so highly stigmatised; the only way to respond to the female suffering was through word of mouth via the grass root, ‘underground’ network of support Sister Somalia. It was created by survivors who were supported after their trauma. The survivors referred other women who were raped months before but until then were too afraid to seek aid and others within hours of an attack began coming forward.
Sexual violence is an extremely taboo topic, survivors and caseworkers alike faced being ostracised by society. Al-Shabaab, State actors, community leaders and the general public rarely have common views, but it became clear rape was a topic they all wanted swept under the carpet.
Ilwad Elman spoke for six minutes at the One Young World Conference in October 2013 in Johannesburg. However, why is it that as she describes Somalia and I look at the story of Liz in Kenya, I wonder if we are any better. Silly me, I told Ilwad that what The Gender Violence Recover Center (GVRC) in Kenya has done could also help her formulate ways to make Sister Somalia more effective. Who am I to tell this young girl in Somalia how we can help, while in Kenya our story is no better. Who am I?
In February 2013, Lul Ali Osman Barake made international headlines when she reported her rape at the hands of men she says were government soldiers. They took turns raping her, she told CNN, only stopping when they thought she was dead. But when she reported the crime, it was Barake who was arrested and convicted of defaming a government institution.
Eventually, she was freed after a huge international outcry, but she says her attackers have yet to face justice. And, like many of the women CNN spoke to, she has no faith they ever will. Somali Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon admits there's a problem but insists that it is being addressed.
"There's been no effective government in Somalia for such a long time, and people are disorganised ... but now we are organising, and I think we'll disconnect ... from the past," he told CNN. "We are doing everything possible, we are taking every step to ensure that women and girls are safe.
Once again, I ask, if Somalia’s issue is that they haven’t had effective government for such a long time, what’s our excuse for what is happening to Liz and many other silent victims of rape in Kenya? What is our excuse? Liz’s story is now international. The global campaigning network Avaaz has launched an online petition demanding justice. It had more than 400,000 signatures by Saturday. it’s looking for 1,000,000 signatures. I have signed.
If you’ve just landed on the planet and don’t know the story of Liz – here’s a recap for you. Sixteen-year-old Liz was walking home from her grandfather’s funeral when she was ambushed by six men who took turns raping her and then threw her unconscious body down a six-meter toilet pit. Their punishment? Police had them cut grass and go home.
Nobody has been brought to justice -- not the rapists, and not the police. The story that run on October 7, 2013 in The Nation is beyond sad. It should make each and everyone of us angry. I am not going to try and re-tell the story – Njeri Rugene did a wonderful job. Liz is confined to a wheelchair.
Doctors say she might have broken her spinal cord either during the rape ordeal or after she was thrown in the pit latrine. And, as if that is not tragic enough, the Standard Seven pupil has developed obstetric fistula, a condition that leaves a woman with a leaking bladder and, in extreme conditions such as hers, leakage of stool as well.
The ordeal has left the girl an emotional wreck, her innocence and dreams shattered by people that, she says, are well known to her. And, to add insult to injury, it appears that no one, not even the police who are supposed to aid her judicial quest, is willing to help her carry this load. Meanwhile – Kimaiyo is looking to arrest journalists. Like seriously? Really? The attackers have been left free to roam her village, even to taunt her. Liz, therefore, only has her mother to clutch onto. And that, in these circumstances, is a pain too hard to stomach.
“My wish is to see justice done,” she sobs. “I want my attackers arrested and punished.”
Can we please have this done today. Not tomorrow, not next week – today.
To sign the petition to get justice for Liz go to the following link http://www.avaaz.org/en/justice_for_liz_loc/?twi