Somalia: Women go where aid agencies fear to tread

Women's groups in embattled Mogadishu are stepping into the aid vacuum to assist thousands more displaced by fighting in the capital, civil society activists said.
"We have been helping in the past but now the situation is even worse so we have had to assume an even bigger role," said Asha Sha'ur, a civil society member and activist. Due to insecurity, aid agencies have little access to internally displaced persons (IDPs), but Sha'ur said women's groups could move more freely. “We have had problems but both sides to the conflict have been good at allowing us [women] to help the needy. When they see a bunch of women they don’t bother us," Sha’ur told IRIN.
Mogadishu has been a battleground for troops loyal to the government of President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed and two Islamist armed opposition groups, including the militant al-Shabab group, which controls much of the south and centre of the country.

The fighting has displaced almost 278,000 people since early May, according to a local human rights group.

Shaur said the situation in Mogadishu was worse than "at any time in the past. I know we have said so many times that the situation is bad, but I honestly cannot remember when the suffering was this bad."

Aid agencies should work more closely with women's groups, she said, "since we have better access".

Desperate IDPs

More and more desperate IDPs are arriving in camps located between Mogadishu and Afgoye (30km south), according to Jowahir Ilmi, head of Somali Women Concern, run by displaced women.

"The new ones are in worse shape than the old IDPs; they come with very little and for the most part have to share shelter with other families or stay in the open," Ilmi said.

She said the women's groups collected donations from the business community and Somalis in the diaspora. "Everybody is giving what they can afford," she said.

In the past few days, her group had distributed jerry cans and mosquito nets to 432 families using donations.

"I know it is a drop in the ocean, given the need that exists, but we have to start somewhere," Ilmi said.

Exodus continuing

Meanwhile, the exodus from the capital continued, according to the Mogadishu-based Elman Human Rights Organization (EHRO).

Ali Sheikh Yassin, the deputy chairman, told IRIN many more people were leaving the city.

"The fighting is still going on and there is no end in sight," he said.

A local journalist, who requested anonymity, told IRIN that al-Shabab had warned government forces to lay down their weapons within five days or face the consequences.

A recording by their leader, Sheikh Mukhtar Abuu Subeyr, broadcast on local radio stations, warned that those who did not surrender would be brought before an Islamic court, according to the journalist.

"He is basically telling them to surrender to him," the journalist said.

6 July 2009

Source: IRIN