IT’S A HARD LIFE: Fatuma Ibrahim, who was flown to Nairobi from Wajir with a knife stuck in her face (inset) after she was attacked by her husband, with Wajir woman representative Fatuma Ibrahim Ali at KNH on January 16.
Fatuma Ibrahim recently made news headlines as the ‘woman with a Somali sword in her head’. She may only be 32, but one would be forgiven for thinking she is 50.
Her upper front teeth are missing – a testament to the violence meted out on her by her husband. The worry lines on her face are deep. Her skin looks ashen. Lips are dry and cracked. Her frame is small, skin clinging to bone. Her eyes are sunken and dark. One look at her and the hard life she lives is evident.
Fatuma has scars all over her body from beatings. What was she to do? Where was she to go with four little mouths to feed? Those were some of the questions she asked herself every time his violence reared its ugly head. She was his human punching bag, and she was used to it.
On the evening of January 6 her husband stabbed her seven times with a Somali sword, which finally got lodged inside her head.
Fatuma, who narrated her ordeal through a translator since she does not speak English or Kiswahili, said her husband intended to kill her. Every time he lifted the sword to stab her, he shouted “I will kill you!” When he finally stabbed her head, he tried to dislodge the sword to continue stabbing her but it was stuck fast.
When photos of Fatuma with the sword lodged in her head hit social media, Kenyans on Twitter started a campaign to save her with #JusticeForFatuma. So, did we as KOT do enough for her? I believe we did the best we could. We saved a woman’s life by coming together to amplify her cry for help. Fatuma needs more help, but where will it come from?
Remember #JusticeForKhadija? Khadija was a teen bride married to a man four times her age who poured scalding hot water on her. She suffered third-degree burns. Her husband hid her in their house for four days. Doctors at KNH recommended further surgery which she cannot afford.
Where are the so-called women’s organisations that have the capacity to offer Khadija, Fatuma and others in their situation post-recovery help? Where are the NGOs or women leaders?
Is it also time we asked the hard and uncomfortable questions that surround the role of Alternative Dispute Resolution used by the Somali community and some followers of the Muslim faith? The ADR is recognised as a legal way of settling disputes, but in some cases it can be argued that it is not only misused, it encourages criminal behaviour.
This system of ADR, also known as Maslaha, is supposed to be guided by the Quran. According to a human rights defender in Garissa, the ADR used by the Somali community is distorted and does not follow guidelines laid out in the Quran. Murder and sexual, gender-based violence are settled through Maslaha.
A few elders appointed by the community or clans come together to ‘discuss’ the crime. These elders are supposed to be Islamic scholars who understand what the Quran says about crimes and punishment, but in most cases they are untrained and come up with what they feel is a good enough verdict.
Let us take the case of Fatuma as an example. According to Somali culture, it is an abomination to stab a woman or child, even so, the elders would have come together and ordered her husband to pay a few goats. Fatuma would then have been ordered to go back to her husband. Back to the vicious circle of violence and perhaps, eventually, death.
Another example is when sexual violence has occurred. If a girl is raped, she becomes an outcast in the community. The elders fine the perpetrator, then order him to marry the victim to ‘redeem’ her worth. So if a man eyes a young girl he is interested in, all he has to do is rape her, knowing very well part of the ‘punishment’ will be to marry her. Such cases are rampant in the region, with many girls who have been violated unable to continue with their education, if they were lucky enough to be enrolled in school, since they have to marry the men who rape them.
The same applies to murder cases. The elders fine the perpetrator what they term blood money. The clan is fined collectively on behalf of the accused and the fine is paid to the victim’s clan. The crime stops being an individual’s responsibility.
Maslaha may be good for some cases, but it is high time a review of what they handle is done. Murder, attempted murder and SGBV should not go through Maslaha. Justice for the victim becomes a mirage when the only recourse they have is the Maslaha system.
Fatuma’s husband claims she tried to commit suicide. If found guilty, it will create shock waves in the community since cases of domestic violence are rarely heard in a court of law.