Gelle Moulid Ibrahim stands up for women and girls who are victims of sexual violence, working with communities so that gender-based violations are not perpetuated. He works as a project manager for the Organization for Somalis Protection and Development (OSPAD), which operates in Middle Shabelle, Galgaduud and Banadir regions.
Launched in May 2000 by a group of Somali intellectuals and human rights activists, OSPAD uses a holistic approach to tackle the challenges facing vulnerable women and girls, including the provision of psychosocial support. Food security, health, education and protection of the victims are also at the core of OSPAD’s work.
“Victims do not get the support they need from the community. They are being stigmatized, isolated and looked down upon. Some survivors will not even get married within their community,” Gelle notes.
He is one of the relatively few male activists campaigning for women’s rights in Somalia. But Gelle believes that he is better placed to help change some of the social misconceptions of gender, the stereotyping and negative attitudes about women. For example, he speaks out against the perception that men who do not beat their wives are weak. Gelle says that sexual violence against women in Somalia is perpetrated by men, hence his determination to eradicate the crime.
“At the height of the civil war, women were used as pawns during the fighting. When two clans fought, the victor violated women and girls from the losing clan to celebrate their victory. That practice exacerbated the problem of sexual violence,” he explains.
A proponent of women’s rights, Gelle is committed to making positive change by reducing the extent of such human rights violations.
“Through awareness and sensitization campaigns, we provide counselling to survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. Other than community outreach, we also use the radio as a platform to sensitize the people. Our efforts have had a great impact in communities where we work,” he remarks.
The activist urges victims of sexual violence to break the silence around the crime. He adds that the main aim of OSPAD’s sensitization campaigns is to encourage victims of sexual violence to seek redress through the formal justice system, instead of relying on clan elders’ arbitration. The traditional justice system in Somalia has not been effective enough in deterring sexual violence, Gelle says.
“There was a mother who was a shopkeeper in a village in Lower Shabelle region. One night a group of armed men raided her shop and took everything, before gang raping and killing her. She left behind a toddler. No one was arrested for this heinous crime. The elders failed to identify and punish the killers. It is heartbreaking,” he recalls.
He believes that only concerted efforts can curb the incidence of gender-based violence. His resolve to continue his community outreach work is unshaken, although he has been attacked on occasion while conducting OSPAD activities.
“The fight against these injustices motivates me to continue with my advocacy, in order to change the attitudes and thinking of men towards women,” Gelle says. “It is somehow dangerous, but someone has to stand up against them,” he adds, referring to the perpetrators of such violence.
The Federal Government of Somalia is currently reviewing the National Action Plan on Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict, as part of wider efforts aimed at addressing conflict-related sexual violence in the country. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) is supporting the Federal Ministry of Women and Human Rights Development to draw up a legal framework that will improve reporting, support for survivors and the capacity of government authorities to prosecute perpetrators of sexual violence.
The annual campaign “16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence” is launched around the world on 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and lasts until 10 December, International Human Rights Day. This year’s theme, “Leave no one behind: End violence against women”, reinforces the commitment of the United Nations and the broader global community to a world free from violence against women and girls.