With the emergence and spread of COVID-19 across the world, social, political and economic activities came to a standstill in many countries, including Somalia. The implementation of movement restrictions, meant that people had to stay at home round the clock. The restrictions have notably increased incidences of gender-based violence (GBV) against women and girls, as well as limited their access to sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services and information, normally available to women and adolescent girls in Somalia.
For the past two years, Somalia has not only experienced the COVID-19 pandemic, but also other emergency shocks, such as droughts, floods and desert locust invasion, immensely affecting crop and agriculture. Children, girls and women are bearing the brunt of these humanitarian emergencies.
Despite the existence of mother and child health (MCH) care facilities in almost all districts in Banadir region, many women and adolescent girls in the region do not have access to quality reproductive health information, education or care. Reproductive health packages remain a major health gap in service provision. Furthermore, poverty, cultural and social norms have prevented young girls from accessing appropriate menstrual supplies and safe spaces. A lack of adequate menstrual hygiene and commodities are a major stumbling block for realizing effective menstrual hygiene.
During UNFPA-supported sessions on sanitary pads distribution, it became clear that young girls continue to use unhygienic materials, potentially increasing urogenital symptoms and infection. In Banadir region, despite the presence of MCH care facilities, the lack of appropriate menstrual hygiene information among young girls and women was evident.
With support from UNFPA, Mercy-USA has set up youth spaces in Kahda district, in Banadir region, in which vocational skills training and SRH services and information are offered to youth and adolescents between 15 – 24 years of age.
“The youth centers are instrumental in providing opportunities for young girls and women to receive SRH services and information. We are looking into supporting more youth spaces in strategic locations, e.g. within universities and downtown where young people can access and receive necessary services. The centers have youth-friendly clinics providing SRH information, counselling and HIV Voluntary Counselling and Testing (VCT) and helping young people overcome barriers to access SRH services,” says Abdihakim Abdullahi, Programme Officer, Adolescent & Youth UNFPA Somalia.
On 25 November 2021, as the world kicked off the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence Campaign, Mercy-USA, with the support of UNFPA, mobilized young girls and women in eight MCH facilities in Banadir region. Between 25 November and 9 December 2021, as part of the campaign, some 2,500 reusable sanitary pads were distributed to 1,367 young adolescent girls and women in four districts in the region.
In Somalia, where women are subjected to many forms of abuse, such as rape, torture, early marriages and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), the campaign serves as an important tool to advocate for ending all forms of violence against women and girls, and to encourage men to join the movement. Therefore, UNFPA and Mercy-USA staff working in the health facilities visibly supported the distribution of reusable pads, as an act of solidarity. “We need to ensure that every girl in Somalia has access to basic sanitary products and SRH information and services,” said Mohamed Jellow, Mercy USA Programme Manager.
Most young girls in Somalia do not have access to quality SRH information, education or care. It is therefore vital that UNFPA Somalia continues to support the needs of women and adolescent girls across the country. While the provision of reproductive health services to young people remain a sensitive issue in large part of the country, the youth-friendly clinics are succeeding, through professional health care practitioners, to provide sound information and services that meets the needs of young people.