Breaking the Silence: A Contextual Analysis of the Barriers, Laws and Policies to Safe Abortion Following Rape in Puntland, Somalia

Sexual violence is at epidemic proportions in Puntland, a semi-independent state located in the northeast corner of Somalia, though official data is not kept. Women and girls face some of the most persistent and systemic gender inequities in the world. The absence of a strong central government and subsequent peace agreement following the Somalia Civil War in 1992 has led to the erection and recognition of a clan system of power, which relies on loose or well-organized collections of men, undemocratically elected and representing those in their clan in a sort of caste system, to make local decisions, collect money for insurance, and often, as in the story above, intervene in judicial matters. At the same time, survivors of sexual assault have limited recourse to sexual and reproductive health services after assault: in this officially Islamic state, abortion is only allowed to save the life of the mother and based on the prevailing norms of the clinic or doctor performing the operation, can be refused; further, emergency contraception is not or rarely available. The main goal for this research assignment was to collect data around the barriers of accessing safe abortion services experienced by survivors of sexual violence and whether Islam, as interpreted in Puntland’s sharia law, allows for the exercise of a right to access abortion services following an act of sexual violence. Research questions include: what laws, policies and protections are in place for sexual violence survivors vis-à-vis abortion? How do these laws, policies and protections interact with social and gender norms? To what extent are these laws, policies, and protections for sexual violence survivors vis-à-vis abortion enforced? And how can these laws, policies and protections be supplemented, revised, or amended?