| Fartuun Adan and Ilwad Elman
Through their work with child soldiers, Fartuun and Ilwad were also confronted by the scale of sexual violence and rape. “It was happening everywhere, but everyone was denying it. They weren’t talking about it,” Fartuun says. “We had to do something to help these women. We had to do something to give them a voice.”
In response, they founded the Sister Somalia initiative, the first-ever rape crisis center in Mogadishu. The initiative supports Somali sexual violence survivors and those who have escaped forced marriages by providing counselling, medical services, relocation, education and business starter kits. They educate young girls to know their rights, and have so far supported the rehabilitation of 8,000 women who have been subjected to sexual exploitation.
“There was one woman, Nadifa, who had been out trying to secure food for her family at a neighboring [refugee] camp,” recalls Ilwad. “After hours in line she returned home with nothing, walking in to find a man raping her 11-year-old daughter in front of her younger children. She tried to protect them, but was dragged outside of the camp by soldiers who bound her arms and feet and covered her head with a sack, beating her until she was unconscious. They tortured her, burning plastic deep into her skin over every part of her body. Several weeks later she came to the Centre seeking help. Today she is a business owner and still returns to the Centre almost daily, bringing more women and girls to the program.”
She continues, “We are starting to see a cultural shift. The tolerance of the heinous violence against women and girls is diminishing, but slowly. It is amazing seeing people who had lost hope become empowered. It’s really beautiful and inspires us to continue.”