Hargeisa, Somaliland – Lawmakers in the Republic of Somaliland have for the first time adopted a law criminalizing rape, in what has been hailed as a “victory for women” in the conservative Muslim country.
“This law is the most useful ever passed in Somaliland and it will help eradicate violations against women, specifically, rape and other sexual offenses,” MP Ibrahim Mahdi Buba told AFP late Tuesday.
After seven years of debate, the law was finally adopted on Monday in Hargeisa, the capital of the semi-autonomous region which declared independence from troubled Somalia in 1991.
Forty-six of the 51 MPs present in the lower house approved the law, which must now go through the upper house before being signed by the president.
“Local traditional law used to reward a rapist with the victim he offended and that was really another humiliation women faced,” said Buba, referring to the practice of forcing a woman to marry her rapist.
The rationale was that this would avoid public shame for the victim, who is likely to struggle to find a husband after being raped.
“But with this law, a rapist will be punished harshly,” with up to 30 years in prison, Buba said.
Somaliland’s Social Affairs Minister Hinda Gani said the legislation was a “victory for women in this country”.
“This is really historic and I hope the upper house will adopt the law quickly,” she said.
However, lawyer, Guled Ahmed Jama warned it was too early to celebrate as “the upper house is more conservative than the lower house and I don’t think they will pass it without spending more time on debates.”
Somaliland’s independence has never been recognized internationally, despite regular elections and peaceful changes of government that stand in stark contrast to the decades of anarchy in Somalia.
Somalia — where Human Rights Watch (HRW) has described rape as “normal” — has been working on its first sexual offenses bill since 2014.