Last Updated: Friday, 19 January 2018, 17:46 GMT

Somalia: The situation of women

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Ottawa
Publication Date 7 May 2007
Citation / Document Symbol SOM102474.E
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Somalia: The situation of women, 7 May 2007, SOM102474.E, available at: [accessed 20 January 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

The following Response covers general information on the situation of women, sexual and gender-based violence, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), women's health, social norms and women's organizations.

Somalia is not party to the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) (UN 2 Nov. 2006). According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA),

Somali women are systematically discriminated [against] and subordinated ... [They face] limited inclusion in decision making structures and leadership roles, limited access to reproductive health, higher rates of stigmatization from HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases, denial of due process rights, abuse of women's rights in divorce cases, denial of custody of children [and] denial [of] women's rights of property ownership and inheritance under customary law. (19 May 2006)

The United States (US) Department of State Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2006 corroborates the systematic subordination of women to men and refers to limited property rights for women (6 Mar. 2007). Freedom House reports that "women experience intense discrimination under customary practices and variants of Sharia" (2006; see also Peace Journal April 2007).

Sexual and gender-based violence, a serious problem in Somalia, is increasing (UN 19 May 2006; ibid. 2007; US 6 Mar. 2007; see also AP 27 Oct. 2006). The UN OCHA states that war-related rape and domestic violence are widespread (UN 19 May 2006) and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) reports that women in Internally Displaced Person (IDP) camps are particularly vulnerable to rape, abduction and forced marriage (2007; see also US 6 Mar. 2007).

According to Country Reports 2006, laws that forbid rape are not effectively implemented (6 Mar. 2007; see also UN 19 May 2006) and spousal rape is not considered a legal offence (US 6 Mar. 2007). In some cases, the police and militia are perpetrators of rape (ibid.). The resolution of rape cases usually involves dialogue between the clan members of the victim and the perpetrator instead of focussing on the victim's circumstances (ibid.). Following rape, victims are subject to discrimination based on perceptions of their "impurity" (ibid.). The UN OCHA reports that since domestic violence and rape are not topics that are discussed candidly in Somalia, the ability of women to seek recourse to the law with respect to matters of gender-based violence is hindered (UN 19 May 2006).

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is highly prevalent in Somalia (US 6 Mar. 2007; see also UN 19 May 2006). Estimates suggest that roughly 98 percent of women have had the procedure, most of whom underwent infibulation, the harshest type of FGM (US 6 Mar. 2007; SIHA Spring 2006). Country Reports 2006 explains that in some parts of Somalia, there are laws forbidding FGM although they are not implemented (US 6 Mar. 2007). A journal from the Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA) states that most Somali women believe that a girl should be circumcised to be eligible for marriage (Spring 2006).

According to the UNFPA, women's health in Somalia is poor (2007). Maternal mortality rates are extremely high (ibid.; ibid. n.d.). Access to family planning services and care for pregnant and delivering women is inadequate (ibid.). Somali women are particularly vulnerable to HIV infection (ibid. 2007; ibid. 1 Feb. 2007).

With respect to women and social norms, the Associated Press (AP) reports that in October 2006, an Islamic court ruled that in order to prevent women and men from socializing, women were no longer permitted to swim at a northern Mogadishu beach (21 Oct. 2006). Similarly, an article from the Independent Women's Forum (IWF) states that co-ed beaches have been prohibited by militias (27 June 2006). Both the IWF (27 June 2006) and The Los Angeles Times (3 Sept. 2006) report that women are being pressured to dress more conservatively. According to the Los Angeles Times, a court official told a female publisher of a women's newspaper to relinquish her job and remain at home (3 Sept. 2006).

Numerous sources report women's organizations actively working on issues such as peacebuilding, development, children's rights, violence against women (AI 2006), female genital mutilation (FGM) (Freedom House 2006), HIV/AIDS (UN 1 Feb. 2007) and women's political participation (US 6 Mar. 2007). Country Reports notes that have been advances made with respect to women's political participation (ibid.). However, AI observes with "deep concern" that the Transitional Federal Parliament of Somalia did not meet its 12 percent quota of seats reserved for women in 2006 (2006). The AP reports that women who advocate for women's rights increasingly find themselves the target of violence (27 Oct. 2006).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Amnesty International (AI). 23 May 2006. "Somalia." Amnesty International Report 2006. [Accessed 13 Mar. 2007]

Associated Press (AP). 27 October 2006. "Women Face Increasing Violence in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia, Senior U.N. Official Says." [Accessed 13 Mar. 2007]
_____. 21 October 2006. "Islamic Court Bars Somali Women from Swimming at Beach." [Accessed 16 Apr. 2007]

Freedom House. 2006. "Somalia." Freedom in the World. [Accessed 13 Apr. 2007]

Independent Women's Forum (IWF). 27 June 2006. A. Yasmine Rassam. "Stability Comes to Somalia, but at What Cost for Women?" [Accessed 17 Apr. 2007]

Los Angeles Times. 3 September 2006. Robyn Dixon. "Somalia: Women Feel Power Slipping." [Accessed 13 Mar. 2007]

Peace Journal [New Jersey]. April 2007. Rene Wadlow. Issue 36. "Somali Women Face New Challenges." [Accessed 16 Apr. 2007]

Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA). Spring 2006. "Kalsan Talks About FGM in Somalia." The Outcry. [Accessed 16 Apr. 2007]

United Nations (UN). N.d. United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). "Health." Somalia. [Accessed 20 Apr. 2007]
_____. 1 February 2007. Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN). "Somalia: Sisters Doing It for Themselves." [Accessed 17 Apr. 2007]
_____. 2007. United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). "UNFPA Somalia: Consolidated Appeals Process 2007." [Accessed 16 Apr. 2007]
_____. 2 November 2006. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. "States Parties." [Accessed 16 Apr. 2007]
_____. 19 May 2006. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). "Somalia: Protection Fact Sheet – May 2006." (ReliefWeb) [Accessed 13 Mar. 2007]

United States (US). 6 March 2007. Department of State. "Somalia." Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2006. [Accessed 11 Apr. 2007]

Additional Sources Consulted

Oral sources: A representative from the Independent Women's Forum (IWF) was unable to provide information within the time constraints of this Response.

Internet sites, including: Human Rights Watch (HRW), International Crisis Group (ICG), Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Refugees International, Save Somali Women and Children, United Kingdom (UK) Home Office, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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