Traditionally the collective and individual obligations and responsi­bilities under the clan system provide protection against random killings or attacks by one group against another in relation to war or conflict. If a man or woman is killed or injured by another, revenge or compensation will be sought. Other than in acts of individually motivated violence, therefore, the decision to kill or attack will be taken collectively by the group having weighed up the arguments for and against and the risks entailed, including: What clan or sub­clan is the target identified with? What relationship are they to my clan or sub-clan identity? If a member of this other clan is killed what are the consequences for the killer’s clan or sub-clan? What relation­ships will be jeopardised? The more closely related a potential target is in clan terms the more difficult it would be to make a decision to kill them.

In the context of domestic conflict, when a woman is the victim of a violent or abusive husband, her male family relatives should intervene and act in the interests of their daughter, sister, niece or cousin. She is ‘one of their clan’ and an injury to her can be interpreted as an offence against the clan and could bring retribution and sanctions against the husband.7 However, this intervention is contingent on an exogamous marriage relationship. Male relatives are unlikely to intervene when the marriage is endogamous or between people from the same clan lineage. Thus a woman in an exogamous marriage is more protected against domestic violence occurring. (Testimony 5 and Chapter 4 discuss some of the impacts the war has had on this aspect of marriage relations.)

When there is armed conflict, both women and men can find personal protection in the conventions of the clan system. However, this is contingent on factors such as their whereabouts at the time; and women have more options for protection than men do.

Spatially Somalia itself can be mapped in terms of traditional clan grazing territories or areas of predominance.8 In the context of a war in which clan identity plays a part, men will enjoy greater safety and protection in the space controlled by their clan kinship group. Outside of this area they are vulnerable though if they are staying among their wife’s lineage group they should be physically protected by her male relatives.9 If the conflict is between the husband and the wife’s clan families this protection may be difficult to sustain. For women the situation is slightly different. A married woman who is not from her husband’s clan should nevertheless be physically safe within his clan area as his clansmen will protect her. If she is childless and the conflict is between her and her husband’s clan she is likely to seek to go back to her father’s home, where she will feel safest. If she is a mother of a dependent male child or children she will almost always seek security for them and herself among her husband’s/their father’s clans-people rather than her own. Staying within their own clan area keeps them under the protection of their paternal male relatives and particularly protects them, as males, from being targets of revenge killings. Whilst she might be physically secure among her husband’s clans-people, however, she is likely to feel emotionally insecure – particularly if the conflict is between her own clan and her husband’s. From gossip and conversation she will be all too aware of the hostility towards her clans-people. If her dependent children are girls they are not at risk from revenge killings and she will probably take them to stay with her father’s family where she will feel safest.

Similarly, a man’s mother-in-law may also be offered similar protection within his clan area but whether or not she feels completely safe under this arrangement will depend on the individual and her circumstances. (For example, see Halimo Elmi’s testimony, which describes how her mother felt unsafe among her son-in-law’s people.)

According to the inter-clan conventions on protection and security in times of war fighters were expected to observe strict rules during a battle, including on the treatment of captured and wounded opponents. Conventions delimited who could and could not be attacked. Those who were immune from attack (known as biri-ma – geydo or ‘spared from the spear’) include women, children, the sick and elderly, men of God (wadaad), poets, honoured guests and community leaders.10

As the accounts in this book testify the civil war has been largely fought with a widespread disregard for these conventions, making it highly risky for anyone, man or woman, to live outside their own clan’s territory. For this reason there are many women in Somalia and the diaspora who separated from their husbands to seek security among their father’s kin or outside the country.