Spring 2021

Creative Life

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Why is there a need for the Sexual Offenses Bill?What have been the main challeng- es to getting it passed and where does it stand now? Ardo: There is an urgent need for this bill because there are currently no laws protecting Somali citizens from any kind of gender-based violence (GBV). News reports show that violence against women and girls has spiked in recent years and is becoming increasingly gruesome and murderous. Sexual abuse is widespread in Somalia, but due to the associated stigma, most cases go unreported. The Sexual Offenses Bill offers protections against these abuses and sets out clear guidelines for police, investigators and prosecutors to hold perpetrators accountable. The main challenge to passing the Sexual Offenses Bill has been the misconception that certain articles of the law are anti-Islamic. As a result, the Sexual Offenses Bill has been pend- ing in the lower house of parliament for two years before a heavily amend- ed version of the Sexual Offenses Bill called the Sexual Intercourse Bill was introduced this summer. This new bill, which allows child marriage, doesn’t provide the same kind of protections as the Sexual Offenses Bill and has been condemned by the international community. What are some of the key points the public needs to be aware of with these competing bills? Ardo: The Sexual Offenses Bill was carefully crafted over a period of five years in close consultation with key stakeholders including women, civil society organizations, lawyers and religious leaders, to name a few. It clearly defines and criminalizes violence against women and girls including rape, forced marriage and sex slavery, and increases sentencing for perpetrators if there are accom- panying aggravating factors. On the other hand, the Sexual Intercourse Bill reduces rape to a misdemeanor and lessens punishment for other serious sexual offenses. For a country already plagued by GBV, the passage of this new, amended bill will have devastating effects and will essentially normalize violence against women and girls in Somalia.

Some opponents to the bill claim that it is anti- Islamic. Can you comment on that tension and how you approach it? Ardo: I’m no religious scholar, but I can say with the utmost confidence that Islam is a religion of peace. Islam does not condone abuses against anyone, especially women and girls. The misconception that protecting the rights of women and girls is anti-Islamic is extreme- ly harmful and damaging to the core principles of Islam. Using this falsity to delay passage of a bill is a textbook example of exploiting inaccurate religious ideologies to advance political interests. Here’s a direct quote by BUILD’s partner SHE Associates Inc., a group with experience supporting similar legis- lation in other Islamic countries. SHE conducted research on the Sexual Offenses Bill in Somalia: “Upon a technical Islamic review, the Bill in fact does not contradict recommendations with regard to harshening punishments have been taken into consideration. It is in harmony with Islamic teachings.” I think it’s always important to con- demn human rights abuses wherever they are happening, and I commend the international community for doing so in this context. I think there’s a fine line between interfering with a country’s autonomy and actively calling out harmful laws and practices that infringe on human rights. Why is this issue personal to you and what motivates you? Ardo: I’ve always been a firm cham- pion and fighter for women’s rights across the world. This issue hits home for me, as a young Somali woman myself. I have family back in Somalia who are directly affected by these issues. This is and always has been my motivation to continue to speak out and fight against GBV issues, which continue to occur with impunity in So- malia. I have also worked directly with victims of such violence in Ethiopia in the formative stages of my career, and these stories have been as painful as they have been inspiring for me to get engaged. In this way, supporting BUILD is both personal and professional. n Islamic teachings, rulings and guidance especially if

with Ardo Aden

Ardo Aden is a program specialist supporting several activities in Creative’s Democracy, Governance and Electoral Integrity practice area, including Bringing Unity, Integrity and Legitimacy to Democracy (BUILD). Ardo’s has recently supported BUILD as it raises awareness around the controversial Sexual Offenses Bill in Somalia. In this Q&A, Ardo gives some context for the bill, its status, and BUILD’s work on the issue, as well as how it fits into the urgent, global fight for the rights of women and girls.

Photo provided by Ardo Aden

28 | Think Creative | Spring 2021

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