Written by Suad Abdi, SRHR activist
At present in Somaliland very few communities see sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) as a priority issue. In addition, the relationship between civil society organisations (CSOs) and the communities they represent and whose needs they claim to address, is weak. The fact that international non-government organisations (INGOs) and local CSOs operate mainly on a project-based approach means that they come in to work with communities but then leave when the project ends. This can lead to a lack of trust between communities and CSOs as the communities feel their longer-term needs are not been prioritised or met. CSOs could do more to build trust by listening to the communities and committing to what each community needs. In addition, concerns have been expressed that events/workshops held in urban settings rarely produce long lasting changes in wider society.
The lack of connection between CSOs and communities means that advocates do not always receive information from the grassroots about the situation of SGBV at a community level. It also means CSOs lack local legitimacy in the eyes of policy makers. In addition, when CSOs are criticised by other sectors of society (for example, religious leaders) they cannot call on communities to back them up. All of this can leave CSOs quite exposed and isolated.
Some CSOs introduced community mobilisers or facilitators as a linkage between communities and their organisations. The mobilisers received training on SGVB and human rights so that they in return could train their respective communities, including community leaders.
Some CSOs also introduced an integrated development approach through which issues of SGBV including FGM were tackled. For instance, where CSOs were already doing income generation activities or, adult/child education or environmental initiatives, they also began to highlight issues of SGBV and FGM at the same time.
Changing social attitudes and beliefs requires concerted, long term efforts. The current approach of creating linkages with communities is not sustainable as those links usually end when the project ends.
Working continuously with communities, with or without projects, is necessary to bring communities and CSOs into a stronger, mutually beneficial relationship where they work side by side. For instance, had the Somaliland Sexual Offenses Act had community buy-in, the CSOs may well have been able to withstand the challenge brought by religious leaders who opposed the Act and attacked CSOs who had worked on it. As it was, the CSOs couldn’t withstand this challenge and the Act was repealed.
Suad Abdi is a development practitioner with over 24 years’ experience in the areas of civil society capacity building; advocacy of women rights issues, particularly on women and decision-making; and sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). Very early in her career in working with women rights organisations Suad worked on the analysis of Good and Bad Practices in Advocating the Prevention of Gender Based Violence (GBV) in Somaliland. She also initiated the provision of legal aid programming to SGBV victims and survivors.
Saud is also a Senior Researcher with several published works on gender, SGBV, de-centralisation and non-state actors in Somaliland.