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TURNING A NEW LEAF: SOMALIA RISING

by Fartuun Adan, Regional Coordinator

The venue of our main event was a public courtyard located in one of the more recently liberated districts of Mogadishu. Still fraught with constant insecurities; high profile government actors whom were scheduled to speak at our rising event nearly canceled, due to the shoot out that took place at the very location, just one day before.

Despite the high security risk notice, the Mayor of Mogadishu, Member of Parliament/Prime Minister’s wife and other influential men and women gathered and joined our rising. The perimeters were secured by national Somali forces and African Union Peace Keeping troops in armored vehicles; an attack was expected, the impact it would have was the pending uncertainty.

With security on high alert; a stampede of joyful risers filled the bleachers, entering by the hundreds; carrying picket signs with messages of ending violence against women and girls. Engulfed by a myriad of bright colors, the courtyard quickly reached maximum capacity. All of the major local news outlets and international press were in attendance at the unprecedented and historic rising in Mogadishu.

Traditional proverbs related to the power of women were being chanted in a melodious tune over the micro-phone, the beat of the drums took on as a faint whisper of a banjo harmony pacified the anxious crowd. A group of cultural dancers and poets of nationwide acclaim had then entered the courtyard; the crowd that had calmed down; were now up on their feet again, dancing, singing, clapping.

The entertainment of the event was not limited to the dancing and poetry; plays with a central message on ending violence against women were put on, popular Somali Singers wrote a special song for the event and serenaded the crowd with enduring words of the Somali woman’s power, worth and marking February 14th as her emancipation. The V-GIRLS performed the Breaking the Chain dance in front of the crowd exceeding the hundreds. This was their second performance, their first being a flash mob, one day before the event in the streets of Mogadishu.

With a standing ovation from the mayor, and clapping and cheering coming from every end of the courtyard; the dance was received very well by those present, and would come to be the topic of most discussions for the days to follow. As the major local news stations re-aired the rising event over the week, an out pour of girls visited the Elman Center on a daily basis asking to learn the dance, or become a V-GIRL.

The list of speakers was as impressive and engaging as the entertainment, a few of the most notable included the district commissioner, the only female district commissioner in Mogadishu; a woman who against all odds, in one of the most insecure districts has managed to restore stability, hope and fights for the advancement of women by leading as an example. The mayor condemned violence against women in Mogadishu and made a personal commitment to do all he can to ensure that criminals face consequences and abolish the status quo which blames victims instead of perpetrators. Our keynote speaker was the honorable Asho Haji Elmi; wife of the Prime Minister of Somalia, Member of Parliament and well established member of the Somali Civil Society Community.

The event ended several hours later, without a security breach and with hundreds of Somali men, women and children alike exiting the perimeter with the hope that the information, the experience and momentum of the One Billion Rising event gave them, would be taken home and trickled down to the rest of their communities.

Following the extravagant day-time event which was open to the public; the first lady of Somalia, Qamar Ali Omar hosted a private dinner in honor of One Billion Rising for the V-GILRS, A handful of the University Risers and 50 of Mogadishu’s most influential women; comprising of civil society actors, business women, policy makers, scholars and community leaders.

Prior to the main event on the 14th, we organized three One Billion Rising side events dubbed the three Rs centered on: 1. Raising awareness 2. Rallying risers 3. Reaching the masses, from the grassroots networks to the decision making actors.

Workshops on the Prevention and Response to Gender Based Violence were organized in three of the leading universities in Mogadishu; nearly 250 students partook in the one day workshop hosted at the universities. The students were successful in brainstorming a sustainable way to establish linkages to services and support groups within the universities for female students who experience violence either at school or at home.

The students who partook in the workshops also became ambassadors for the One Billion Rising campaign; raising awareness within their own networks, distributing fliers for the main event, and others used their university as a platform to engage like minded individuals and to discuss what are women rights in accordance to international laws and locally practiced and national laws. This group of young scholars and risers, presented their concerns and recommendation for gender justice at the dinner hosted by the first lady of Somalia; in a room full of the most influential women in Mogadishu.

The Somali Federal Government, after 20 years of turmoil and civil war and subsequent to an elongated Transitional Federal Government’s term; entered administration, giving every indication it is intent on ending violence against women and impunity. The timing of our One Billion Rising events coincided with the greatest let down yet by the new Federal administration; a woman who alleged rape was sentenced to serve one year in prison and the journalist whom interviewed her as well. The setbacks of the sentencing were experienced immediately; survivors of rape noted as hesitant to report to authorities, seek aid or services. The message that was sent was a complete contradiction to the earlier promises made when the president first took power; that convicted rapists would be punished. The message was now, alleging rape is punishable.

Through our One Billion Rising campaign, we lobbied relentlessly for the immediate release of the woman and the journalist; it became a driving force for many survivors to join us, in dance, in spirit, in words, and in action to refute being silenced and demonstrating the power of speaking out against violence.

Somalia had turned a new leaf; this was supposed to be a new chapter. The government actors who chose to speak and rise with us at our event agreed, that this was a fail from the judicial system; and that it is a wrong that must be resolved immediately. Only then will the momentum of change last on, and only then will security, stability, peace and prosperity mean for all; which includes women.

The charges against the woman who alleged rape were dropped and she was freed. The journalist unfortunately remains in jail with a reduced sentence.

We believe, it was a combination of international pressure, local lobbying and the courageous actors who spoke out and rose up as part of the global campaign One Billion Rising that this victory was possible.

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