Deqa Yasin (first row, right) during the Women's Charter convention in Mogadishu, Somalia, in March 2019. The Women’s Charter issued calls for full inclusion of women across the political, economic and social spectrum in Somalia. (Credit: UNDP)

Deqa Yasin’s work promoting women’s rights in Somalia has led to significant successes, including an increase in the number of women in Parliament and the development of the Somali Women’s Charter.

One of the first bills presented under Deqa Yasin’s leadership as Minister—the National Disability Agency Establishment Law—sailed through Parliament and was promptly signed into law by the President in 2018. However, several bills addressing children’s and women’s issues that Ms. Yasin sponsored during her tenure as Minister of Women and Human Rights, such as the sexual offenses bill, faced significant challenges. Despite being approved by the Cabinet of Ministers, the sexual offenses bill, which would have provided Somalia’s first dedicated legal protections from gender-based violence (GBV), stalled in Parliament. Other bills such as ones on child rights and anti-female genital mutilation (FGM) also were blocked at the cabinet level. This resistance to children and women’s rights is reflective of a broader global trend where progress toward achieving human rights’ goals, particularly those concerning women, is being obstructed or reversed.

Ms. Yasin faced another troubling aspect of the global trend: she became a target of online gender-based attacks due to her work as a minister—attacks mostly rooted in resistance to the sexual offenses bill. In 2020, she initiated legal action against one of her online attackers who threatened her life, taking the case to the District Court in The Hague, Netherlands. In November 2022, the Dutch court ruled in her favor, setting a precedent for prosecuting transnational online crimes and holding perpetrators accountable. This verdict was upheld at the Appeal Court in 2023.

In this interview, conducted by Phoebe Donnelly and Mahathi Ayyagari from the Women, Peace, and Security program at the International Peace Institute, Ms. Yasin recounts some of these experiences and talks about the role of the international community in combating online gender-based violence, how women in leadership roles can be supported, and what the future holds for women’s rights in Somalia.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Can you tell us a bit about the sexual offenses bill in Somalia? Why is this bill significant?

Somali women are confronted with very high levels of sexual and gender-based violence. This poses a key risk to their security and to the security of our country. The sexual offenses bill was designed to address this enormous challenge by providing Somalia’s first dedicated legal protections from sexual and gender-based violence. It was forward-looking, provided clear definitions of the crime and associated penalties, and was consistent with Somalia’s regional and international obligations. The Somali Penal Code, written in the 1970s, contains significant gaps that fail to address modern realities, including technological advancements. For instance, incidents of rape are now being recorded on video and shared on platforms like YouTube, which the penal code was not crafted to address. The sexual offenses bill sought to close these gaps. Read more