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Sex in a Mogadishu City

Two women in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, have been talking to the BBC about how they got drawn into the underground world of sex work in a city living under the threat of violence following years of civil war. We have changed their names to protect their identities. Mogadishu’s vibrant and bustling Lido Beach offers a glimpse of what the city could become, as it tries to leave the conflict behind. The seaside resorts, upmarket restaurants, hotels and fresh food are huge attractions. But lingering nearby is an alternative scene – of partying, drugs and sex-fuelled violence. The women caught up in this hidden side of the city are young, destitute, and often vulnerable. A UN report found that there was a big jump in sexual violence from 2019 to 2020, saying that abuse is often exacerbated in conflict zones. It also noted that “weak legislation allows perpetrators to walk free, and survivors receive little or no support”. Women who engage in sex work are among the most vulnerable in Somali society, as they are shunned due to their taboo lifestyle, essentially making them outcasts. There are several women’s organisations in Somalia but when contacted by the BBC they were unwilling to comment due to the sensitivity of the subject.