The work of Judith Gardner and Judy El Bushra in bringing this book to fruition has been a collective labour of love with their Somali collaborators. Harrowing accounts of women’s wartime experience run the gamut here: atrocity, fear, destruction, flight, starvation and courageous efforts to make the dying and the fighters stop.
But the most powerful impression of what Somali women went through as their society descended into a vortex of chaotic savagery is the way in which their own inner beings – along with families and affiliations – were torn apart. Particularly dreadful things happen to women when a society splinters and re-splinters along ethnic fault-lines and every social code breaks down.
Somali women belong to their father’s clan, their children to their husband’s. This meant that many families were forced to break up and women fled to their ancestral lands. Their mothers had to go somewhere else again. And then there were targeted and systematic sexual attacks on women, an unheard-of breach of warrior convention. So acute is the shame of rape in Somali society that the pain of confronting what men did to them is still difficult to face.
Somalia: The Untold Story also provides much context and history. After all, except for warlords and ‘Black Hawk Down’, almost everything about Somalia is ‘untold’– especially when it comes to women. Hard as some of this material is, it is also a surprisingly good read and a fine contribution to debates on the roles women play in war.Maggie Black
This first appeared in our award-winning magazine - to read more, subscribe from just £7