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3.13.7. Single women and female heads of households

Last update: June 2022
*Minor updates: August 2023

This sub-profile refers to single women (e.g. divorced women, unmarried women, widows) and female heads of households. Girls can also fall in this sub-profile.

COI summary

Protection for Somali women is linked to their father, husband, family network, extended family network and clan. In Somali society, it is seen as being against the culture and the religion for a woman to live alone. The security situation is particularly dire for single women without a clan network. Women who have broken social norms may be ostracised. Furthermore, it remains difficult for a single woman to rent, sell or buy a residence by herself, as she could be viewed as a prostitute. An unaccompanied woman living without a husband might also be exposed to sexual violence. Families headed by an unaccompanied woman are more exposed to malnutrition. [Targeting, 2.5, p. 43]

Women residing in camps face higher risks of SGBV. Among IDPs, single, divorced, and widowed women are especially vulnerable. For single mothers in IDP situations, a profound lack of resources and rising food prices due to Covid-19 means that many simply cannot access what is needed to sustain their own health and that of their children [Targeting, 2.5, p. 43]. The precarious situation of women, and in particular female-headed households, in IDP sites continued to be reported in November 2022 [Security 2023, 1.4.2., p. 48].

Sources indicate that divorce is not uncommon in the country and in general, divorce is more accepted now than it was in the past. However, a woman still needs to obtain her own clan’s consent for a divorce as well as cite specific reasons. Children most often remain in the custody of the mother after a divorce. Although there is no immediate stigma around getting divorced, the attitudes of local communities towards divorced women may differ. Remarriage after divorce is common. [Targeting, 2.5, p. 43]

In general, pre-marital pregnancies are hidden and denied to the extent that the woman sometimes risks reproductive health problems. Discovery of an unmarried woman becoming pregnant would be regarded by the family and society as a betrayal of family honour and the woman would be stigmatised and possibly even attacked physically. Furthermore, the extended family might abandon the mother and child and the clan might no longer provide them with protection. It has also been reported that women with children born out of wedlock might be pushed to live in the area of local sex workers. [Targeting, 2.5, p. 44]


Conclusions and guidance 

   Do the acts qualify as persecution under Article 9 QD?   

Some acts reported to be committed against individuals under this profile are of such severe nature that they amount to persecution (e.g. physical violence, sexual violence). When the acts in question are of less severe nature (e.g. ostracism), the individual assessment of whether they could amount to persecution should take into account the severity and/or repetitiveness of the acts or whether they occur as an accumulation of various measures.

   What is the level of risk of persecution (well-founded fear)?   

The individual assessment of whether there is a reasonable degree of likelihood for the applicant to face persecution in the whole of Somalia, including South-Central Somalia, Puntland and Somaliland, should take into account risk-impacting circumstances, such as: being in an IDP situation, family status (e.g. single mother), family/society perceptions, level of assistance by a support/clan network etc.

In the case of single women and female heads of households without support/clan network, well-founded fear of persecution would in general be substantiated in the whole of Somalia, including South-Central Somalia, Puntland and Somaliland.

   Are the reasons for persecution falling within Article 10 QD (nexus)?   

Available information indicates that persecution of this profile may be for reasons of membership of a particular social group. For example, women with children born out of wedlock may be subjected to persecution for reasons of membership of particular social group, based on their common background which cannot be changed (having a child out of wedlock) and distinct identity in Somalia (in relation to stigmatisation by society and seen as betraying the family honour).