Addressing sexual violence against displaced women and girls: Interview with Hala Al Karib, Regional Director of SIHA Network

“Violence against women and girls is the manifestation of a system that condones the subordination of women and girls” — Hala Al Karib

Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA Network) is a women’s rights organization and regional network of more than 130 grassroots civil society organizations dedicated to promoting women’s and girls’ rights and empowerment in the Horn of Africa.

In 2018, SIHA Network received a first grant from the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women (UN Trust Fund) for a project to address the sexual violence against displaced women and girls living in camps in South Sudan. In 2021, it received a second grant to implement a new project in Somalia focusing on preventing sexual and gender-based violence against internally displaced women and girls and those living in minority communities.

We talked with Hala Al-Karib, SIHA Network’s Regional Director, to learn more about how their projects support marginalized women and girls.

Group of women and girls outdoors raising their fists and holding up signs in favor of women’s rights
Girls mentorship and advocacy workshop. Credit: Bulis Marjan/SIHA

What are some of the key lessons learned from your first UN Trust Fund-supported project? How have they informed SIHA Network’s new project?

The first lesson learned is that we must strengthen the capacity of feminist and women’s rights movements on the ground, as they are core actors challenging violence against women and girls. Building their capacity is the only way to bring about a real shift in politics perpetuating gender-based violence.

It is also critical to invest in and include all women and girls, in their diversity, in decision-making processes to lead transformative change.

Another lesson has been the importance of collaborating, as much as possible, with local governments and institutions. This enables organizations like ours to develop a network of allies at the local level, allowing us to work in a safer, easier way.

Collaborating with service providers is also key to develop guidelines for prevention of violence against women and girls, and build local systems that have the capacity and understanding on how to respond to cases of violence against women and girls.

Your new project focuses on addressing violence against women and girls from internally displaced and minority communities, who are at high risk of violence. How will you ensure they are better protected and supported?

We will engage with actors leading the work on ending violence against women and girls, including women’s rights organizations and women’s movements that represent women and girls in all their diversity.

We believe it is important to recognize and fully understand the importance of power relations when it comes to violence against women and girls, to hear directly from and collaborate with internally displaced and minority women.

In other words, it is critical to adopt a feminist participatory approach during all forms of engagement and intervention.

Group of young people and a woman outdoors standing up and holding a trophy
SIHA’s school club wins an inter-school debate competition on gender equality. Credit: Susan Alobo/SIHA

The COVID-19 crisis exacerbated violence against women and girls and forced organizations like yours to adapt quickly. What have you learned from these adaptations that you will take into the next project?

The COVID-19 crisis exposed the fragility, the vulnerability of our accomplishments. We realized that all women and girls can be exposed to higher risk of violence during times of crises.

During the pandemic, women were the most affected by loss of income-generating activities and simultaneously experienced an increased amount of care work, yet there were limited services to support them adequately. This highlighted the importance of international and regional accountability and policies towards addressing women’s empowerment and violence against women and girls.

How has the UN Trust Fund’s support contributed to the success of your previous project, and how do you plan to use the support for the current project?

The UN Trust Fund’s support gave us the opportunity to influence the narrative on ending violence against women and girls in South Sudan. It also enabled us to collaborate with grassroots women’s organizations, local government actors, and schoolteachers. Most importantly, the UN Trust Fund’s support allowed us to address the normalization of violence against women and girls.

Through our new project, we will continue to build on the outcomes of the first UN Trust Fund-supported project by working with women’s movements and networks on the ground to advocate for policy and law reform.



UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women

The UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women is the only global grant-making mechanism dedicated to eradicating all forms of #VAWG.