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A group of girls walk back from school in Hargeisa, Somaliland, on March 11, 2017.
Kate Holt/UNICEF
Girls & Women

This African State Could Soon Pass Its First-Ever Law Against Rape

Lawmakers in Somaliland — a small autonomous state in Somalia — just took a big step toward eradicating violence against women.

On Monday, after seven years of deliberation, Somaliland’s lower house of parliament passed the state’s first anti-rape law with overwhelming support, the Agence France-Presse reported.

According to the BBC, rapists now face a minimum of 30 years in prison. The new legislation and penalty represents a monumental shift away from policies that allowed perpetrators of rape to marry their victims.

Take Action: Test Your Knowledge: Gender-Based Violence

“Local traditional law used to reward a rapist with the victim he offended and that was really another humiliation women faced," Ibrahim Mahdi Buba, a member of Somaliland’s parliament, told AFP. "But with this law, a rapist will be punished harshly." 

Though it has been a self-declared republic and independently governed since 1991, Somaliland is not internationally recognized as its own country — officially, it remains a part of Somalia, where rape is not formally criminalized, according to Foreign Policy

In Somalia, victims and prosecutors must have proof of penetration in order to bring rapists to justice, News Deeply reported. And even then, rape is typically considered a “crime against morality” rather than a “crime against an individual” as other serious offences like murder are categorized.

Read More: In ‘Rape Capital of the World,’ 12 Soldiers Convicted of Raping Children

According to Human Rights Watch, gender-based violence and sexual violence are major issues in conflict-ridden Somalia, particularly at the hands of Somalia’s armed forces.

Within the larger context of Somalia, Somaliland’s move to amend legislation to offer women greater protection is noteworthy. 

"This law is the most useful ever passed in Somaliland and it will help eradicate violations against women, specifically, rape and other sexual offences," Buba told AFP.

However, the law still needs to be passed by the parliament’s upper house and then signed by the president before it goes into effect, AFP reported.

While some lawmakers are already celebrating the victory, Guleid Ahmed Jama, a lawyer and the founder of the Human Rights Center, a Somaliland-based rights organization, is hesitant. “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," Jama told the AFP.

Still, others remain optimistic.

"This is really historic and I hope the upper house will adopt the law quickly," Social Affairs Minister Hinda Gani told AFP.

Global Citizen campaigns in support of the Global Goals, including Goal No. 5 for gender equality. You can take action here to tell world leaders to redouble their efforts to prevent sexual violence by amending laws.