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Violence against Women


The United Nations defines violence against women as, “any gender-based violence that is likely to result in physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering of the woman, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty whether occurring in public or private life.”

Traditional and cultural violence against women is rooted in the belief that men are stronger and more valuable than women, whether in a social, political, or economic context. In Somali culture, the needs of men take precedence over the needs of women, and society is structured in a way that benefits men more than women. There is also a concentration of power, as many of the positions of authority are held by men. Women are viewed as more nurturing, motherly, and thus are more vulnerable and must require men’s protection. This is also reflected in our culture by the objectification of women and certain stereotypes about men being the protective powerful figure and women being weaker and merely there for the man’s pleasure.

Even in western societies, the patriarchal system caters to men more than women. For example, even in this day and age women are not getting equal pay for their work. Women do not occupy enough powerful positions in society because traditionally their place is seen in the home, especially if a career-oriented woman wants to have or has children. Women have made a lot of progress over time, but in order to eliminate violence both women and men need to continue being champions of anti-violence, and continue to advocate that basic rights must be equally afforded to both men and women.

All sectors of society, whether it is the government, business, individuals, or non-profits, need to make the issue of violence against women part of their central campaigns to better families and communities. If we come together as neighbors, families, and friends, we can make positive change and help victims of violence. That is why it is important to learn about domestic violence and its indicators.

In Somali culture, the victims don’t recognize abuse because they primarily understand it only in the context of physical abuse. There isn’t even a word that translates directly to abuse in the Somali language. Some say that a more holistic way to prevent violence would be to also include the abuser in the solution, to better identify and address the root causes. Most abusers do not think that anything outside of physical abuse is legitimate, and so many claims of abuse are dismissed.

During conversations in our focus groups done within the Healthy Families, Healthy Communities workshops and peer-support groups, it was revealed that many survivors felt that psychological and emotional abuse is more damaging than physical abuse because of the long-term effects that it has on their lives, such as;

  • low self-esteem
  • a lack of confidence in making decisions
  • anxiety
  • a lack of focus on work or taking care of family

It is important to realize that abuse is not only physical and that these other forms of abuse are real and can have equally or even greater negative impacts on a victim’s life, as well as their families and thus society as a whole.

Solutions suggested for empowering women following the Somali women’s focus group and training session are as follows:

  • Women need to come together and stop criticizing one another. Women are carrying the message of violence from men and enabling them to continue the cycle of abuse.
  • Women should avoid pressuring victims to stay in abusive relationships for the sake of the children, or to minimize any type of abuse.
  • Women need to break free from the traditional mentality that “a good woman is the one who takes cares of her husband and children despite the abuse and hardship in the relationship” – and acknowledge that being a good wife should never be associated with carrying the hardship of abuse.
  • Prevention starts early by targeting young women and educating them about what an abusive relationship looks like and showing them the early stages of abuse in an unhealthy relationship. This could involve creating a mandatory curriculum in high school about abuse, bullying and relationships, with the goal of fostering a healthier society.

If prevention starts early, this can reduce the risk of women getting abused in the future. Women should come together and acknowledge that when one is abused, all women are abused. When one is humiliated, all women are humiliated. If this is achieved, then we can start the journey to heal and end abuse against women.



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