SOMALIA-KENYA: Women bear the brunt of Somali conflict

Monday, September 17, 2007

Zamzam Abdinoor, a 16-year-old orphan, has already been married and widowed twice and is now a single mother of two.

She was first married off to a militiaman in the port town of Kismayo. He was killed in one of Somalia's many factional confrontations just a year into the marriage. Her uncle then found another militiaman and she was soon married off again. The second husband also met with a violent death.

"I was devastated and vowed never to marry any man with a gun again. I was heavily pregnant with an orphan and about to deliver," said Abdinoor, now a refugee in the Kenyan town of Garissa after fleeing fighting between Somali government troops and forces of the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) early in 2007.

"Even without a man my two children can eat and wear good clothes. Our men are evil," said Abdinoor, who now sells tea, food and khat, a leafy stimulant chewed by many in the Horn of Africa.

Jawahir Farah (not her real name), 17, became the third wife of a militiaman, but the mother of one now finds herself alone, her husband having disappeared during the height of fighting between Ethiopian troops and UIC forces in Mogadishu early in 2007.

"My parents married me to the man. He was a fighter and in charge of revenue collection at the busy Bakara market [in the capital, Mogadishu], Farah told IRIN, her six-month-old baby strapped to her back. "He was rich and I was happy to be married to him because he could afford to buy anything, gold jewellery, the best clothes and food.

"Now I cannot tell whether he is alive or dead. I have received conflicting reports. Some say he is hiding while others said he is dead," she said.

Most vulnerable

Women and children are the most vulnerable to civil strife in Somalia, according to Abdirahman Yussuf Meygan, a conflict resolution expert. They form the majority of Somali refugees who have fled to neighbouring countries, he said.

"When militiamen die they leave behind several widows and orphans. Some might be lucky to get assistance, but often they are left to suffer," said Meygan.

Nemia Temporal, head of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees' sub-office in the Dadaab refugee camps in eastern Kenya, said the agency runs programmes to help vulnerable women, providing protection and integration services, counselling and resettlement assistance.

"Single mothers either abandoned or separated from their husbands as a result of the conflicts are vulnerable to harassment, discrimination and physical harm," said Temporal.

Abdia Sheikh, another refugee and widowed survivor of the Somali conflict, said women in her situation could take care of themselves if they were helped to set up small businesses.

Source: IRIN
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