Women’s safety endangered by gender-based violence in Somaliland due to one of its worst droughts

‘We have no water. Fuel is very expensive. We used to eat sorghum, rice, pasta and macaroni. But now we do not have the money to buy these foods. We are starving,’ says Amina Yusuf Cige

Maya Oppenheim
Women’s Correspondent
Tuesday 05 April 2022 19:18 BST
Extreme hunger and a scarcity of water are impacting 14 million people in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia
Extreme hunger and a scarcity of water are impacting 14 million people in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

As the Horn of Africa grapples with one of the worst droughts in its history, the dry conditions in Somaliland mean that women and girls are being put at an increased risk of gender-based violence.

Extreme hunger and water scarcity are impacting 14 million people in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, with women often bearing the burden of having to find food and drink during the drought.

Leading NGO ActionAid warned this is resulting in women making long trips through war-ravaged regions where they are more likely to be subjected to violence. It means many of them now face an increased risk of rape, sexual exploitation, and domestic abuse.

Hibo Aden, women’s rights officer at ActionAid Somaliland, a de facto state in the Horn of Africa, said some families are so “desperate” that girls are being pushed into forced marriages to get food and water in return.

“Last month, the government did an assessment about how the drought affected women and children,” she said. “They found that cases of gender-based violence had increased 24 per cent, especially when it comes to domestic violence, forced marriage and girls dropping out of education.”

Meanwhile, Kurt Tjossem, regional vice president for East Africa at the International Rescue Committee, said water in the region is progressively “strained” due to the drought. “Women and girls are walking long distances to fetch water and this often puts them at risk of violence,” Mr Tjossem said.

Mother-of-two Sagal Mohamed Shaheed is one of many women who has been displaced by the drought. The 40-year-old, who is eight months pregnant with her third child, lives in the Giro-Sumo displacement camp. Her family was made to pack up and leave their village after the drought killed all their livestock.

“Our previous life was good,” Ms Shageen said. “I had 100 livestock and got milk from the livestock to drink, feed the children or sell to buy other needed food items. We had a prosperous life. Now all our livestock is gone.”

She added: “Every mother is feeling sorrow when her children are eating only once a day and don't eat the other two times. I feel sorrow every day. I ask myself, ‘when will we be out of this suffering?’ and many other difficult questions. Our needs are great, and we can't afford more than one meal a day and our shelter doesn’t protect us from the sun or the cold.”

ActionAid said Somaliland’s drought has been exacerbated by the Ukraine war. African and Middle Eastern nations are key trading partners with Russia and Ukraine, especially for supplies of wheat, sunflower oil and fertiliser.

More than a quarter of the wheat exports in the world originate from Ukraine and Russia. Communities already living through humanitarian crises, climate disasters and drought, like the Horn of Africa, will be disproportionally affected by rising global food and fuel prices.

People in Somaliland told aid workers at the charity they had experienced surging food and fuel prices since Russia invaded Ukraine. Amina Ibrahim Ege, an 80-year-old from a far-flung village called Ceel-Giniseed in Gabiley district, said 25kg of rice has surged by as much as 50 per cent from $20 (£15.30) to around $30 (£23) during the last month, whereas petrol has gone up from $12 (£9.20) to around $30 for five litres.

“The crisis outside Somaliland is reaching here,” the 80-year-old said.

Amina Yusuf Cige, who lives in the village of Xidhinta in Somaliland, has experienced 12 droughts but explained the current humanitarian crisis is the worst she has suffered in her whole life. “The drought has hit us hard. We have no water; fuel is very expensive; we used to eat sorghum, rice, pasta and macaroni but now we do not have the money to buy these foods. We are starving,” she said. “It used to be nice in the past, but now the world is ending.”

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