Marka, Somalia - Nurtra Haji attends weekly sessions to discuss matters that affect women in Marka and surroundings. There she meets with other women coming from all parts of the district. The group, locally known as the Women's Networking Group, sits together, sometimes for hours, to discuss ways to uplift women's safety, enhance their well-being and guide them to seek justice for crimes committed against them.
The women's group was formed in September 2021 in Marka - a coastal Somali town in Lower Shabelle region, 95 km south of the capital, Mogadishu.
"It is our responsibility as women to deal with Gender-Based Violence (GBV) incidents and take GBV matters to the administration and the police for actions," said Nurta. “We are always tasked to identify cases, record and report to the police for action. Besides that, we provide psychosocial support for victims.”
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is working with the women´s group through the EU-funded Daryeel programme. IOM supports the group to build and cultivate linkages with the Marka District Peace and Safety Committee (DPSC), a local institution that documents disputes amongst community members and brings the cases to relevant institutions.
“The DPSC serves as a conduit between victims and formal justice mechanisms. It also raises funds to cover legal fees so that the women have greater access to justice,” said Amina Mohamed, IOM’s Gender and Youth Senior Program Assistant.
Both the women’s group and the DPSC play a pivotal role in settling disputes in the district through the Somali Xeer system - the traditional law that Somali clans use to attain justice and settle disputes. They address GBV claims and support the local administration in matters affecting the peace and security of the region.
In the absence of a functional court system in Marka, the work of these community groups is restoring the sense that justice is not out of reach. For many women in Marka, this is the first time they dare to come forward and speak up.
"Initially I was ignorant about sharing my story and I was gripped by fear and discrimination. The formation of the women networking group and the mobilization they provided in Marka, and nearby villages enabled us, women, to come out of their homes and share our stories," said a woman from the community.
"As women and the victims, we never knew before where to and who to channel our problems," said a survivor from GBV. “We were given psychosocial support, advice and material support from the women group and that allowed us to value ourselves and get relief from the pain that we have gone through."
Marka is reemerging after decades of instability and conflict. For over six years, the population lived under the control of the violent extremist group, Al-Shabaab, until the Government recovered the town in 2018. The extremist group is still present in many parts of the country and over 500,000 people are estimated to be living under their control, including communities living close to Marka. Women living in Al-Shabaab territory aren´t allowed to participate in public life and are often subject to different forms of violence.
Climatic shocks and diminishing resources in the area have led to an escalation of violence in recent years, especially over water. The DPSC's works across villages and towns in the district to resolve disputes and promote peace and stability.
"We act and solve cases may it be a family dispute, interclan conflicts, conflicts over resources water points, and land disputes, or GBV cases to ensure peace and stability prevail in the region," said Ibrahim Hassan a member from the DPSC.
Since the formation of the Women´s Group, IOM, thanks to EU funding, has implemented series of initiatives in Marka to foster integration among women from different clans.
Activities include enhancing the capacity of women as mediators to resolve conflict, using traditional performances for women to voice their opinions, and providing women with tools and materials to carry out environmental activities in the area with other groups.
“The garbage collection exercise increased the interaction among the women, local administration and security actors across the corridor of Marka district,” said Amina.
Both the DPSC and the women's group, with the support of IOM, initiated a WhatsApp group to improve the exchange of information and act faster upon urgent issues.
Thanks to the group’s efforts and commitment to bring perpetrators to justice, now women have a safe place to turn to when they need to be heard.
"There is hope of getting justice for women. I feel voices of women are heard, recognized and treated with respect now; although there is no court in the district, but still, female victims are supported," said a woman from the community.
Daryeel is a three-year project supported by the European Union with a contribution from USAID, implemented by IOM in coordination with Ministry of Interior, Federal Affairs and Reconciliation (MoIFAR) and the Federal Ministries of Interior for Jubaland, South West, Hirshabelle and Galmudug States of Somalia. The overall goal of the project is to contribute to stability and peace by creating conditions for restoring trust horizontally between communities, and vertically between communities and local leadership through re-building the social institution, providing bridge to longer term development interventions.