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The Somali Woman: Hiiraan Online “Person of the Year” 2016:

President Obama: “You can judge a nation, and how successful it will be, based on how it treats its women and its girls”

Hiiraan Online Editorial
Thursday, January 12, 2017

As women often bear the brunt of war, from Haawo Taako to Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow to Saado Ali Warsame, Somali women have often paid the ultimate price in their pursuit of a just life. Hiiraan Online’s Editorial Board has given an attention and rumination to this year’s selection and chose the Somali Woman as 2016 Person of the Year. The resilience of Somali women to ensure their participation in the policy making process has resulted in a record number of Somali women being elected as federal legislators, 67 to be exact. Elsewhere, Ilhan Omar, a refugee from Dadaab was elected as the first Somali legislator in the United States of America. This is an impressive and deserving achievement worth of recognition.


Statue of the famous Hawo Tako (L), slain MP Saado Ali Warsame (R)


Abdi Hosh, a lawyer and a member of Somalia’s 2012 federal parliament writes that Somali women “have in groups, as organizations, as youth activists came together and worked hard to make sure they are at the ‘political table’ during the 2016 parliamentary process, so that they can be properly/equitably represented in the national arena…our hats should be off to those women, organizations, and activists who made this long journey…”. 


It has not been an easy journey.


The 2008 public stoning execution of 13-year-old Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow is one of the most brutal recorded instances of violence against girls in Somalia. 


Aisha reported that she was raped, but authorities charged her with adultery and sentenced her to death by stoning. All her executors were male. As horrific as it was, it did not deter Somali women from seeking justice. Many Somali women throughout Somalia spoke against the brutal execution. 

Sagal Salad Osman (L) and Hindia Hagi Mohamed (R)


In June 2016, Sagal Salad Osman, a journalist working as a producer and presenter for Radio Mogadishu was gunned down by three unidentified shooters. Just 7 months earlier, Hindia Haji Mohamed, also a reporter with Radio Mogadishu was assassinated when a bomb was covertly placed under her car seat. Still, Somali women marched on. 


In 2014, an outspoken female federal legislator, Saado Ali Warsame was assassinated by gunmen. As a beacon of hope for Somali women,  her death was not in vain. They killed her, but her dream to better the lives of Somali women lived on. 


Minnesota state legislator Ilhan Omar (L), Ilwad Elman of Elman Peace and Human Rights (R)

Saado would’ve been proud to see young Somali women such as Ilwad Eman, renowned human rights activist and named 2016 African Female Youth of the Year. Also Ikran Aden Absuge, Sagal Abdirizak Issak Bihi and Amina Mohamed Abdi was elected as members of Somalia’s federal parliament. She would’ve been equally proud to see Ilhan Omar elected as a State Representative in her home state of Minnesota. 


To their credit, Somali women organized themselves, formed civil society groups, and worked hard to advance their cause. Edna Adan Ismail is the founder of the non-profit Edna Adan University Hospital in Hargeisa. Women travel from every region to her hospital and are treated with care and dignity.  



Fadumo Jibril  (L), Dr. Hawa Abdi (Centre), and Edna Adan Ismail (R)

Then there was Dr. Hawa Abdi, HOL’s 2007 Person of the Year. Dr. Hawa Abdi Foundation has a hospital that treats more than 250 women per day in Mogadishu. Dr. Hawa and Edna Adan have been providing access to healthcare to millions of Somali women. 


“Women who are struggling with illnesses and have no access to healthcare may not think politics as a priority, but with non-profit hospitals in operation," says women’s rights activist, Ayaan Egeh. "Somali women have turned their focus on politics and protecting their environment.” 


Fatima Jibrell, founder of African Development Solutions (ADESO), is an environmental activist and won the United Nation’s top environmental accolade, the Champion of the Earth award. Fatima created the world’s first solar cooking village. She connected peace and women’s empowerment with protecting the environment as the central figure to a healthy prosperous nation. 


Somali organizations such as Elman Peace and Human Rights, IIDA (Women’s Development Organization) and Somali Gender Equity Movement (SGEM) have been mobilizing women for a very long time. 




In 2016, their hard work in the grassroots and in the policy makers’ circles ensured women-only seats were included in the current parliament. Jawahir Barqab, Chairwoman of Banadir Region’s Women’s organization and Batulo Sheikh Ahmed Gaballe tirelessly lobbied and held demonstrations in Mogadishu to demand that Somali women be given 30% of the parliament. In the end, 30% of parliamentary seats were allocated for women. 


Their hard work has paid off to produce not just legislators, but also women who have joined the media, academia, and the armed forces.


Captain of the SNA Iman Elman, Lt Colonel Zakia Hussen of the Somali Police Force

Iman Elman is a young Somali woman working as a captain in the Somali army.  Lt. Colonel Zakia Hussen has a graduate degree and is a senior Somali police officer. Dr. Maryam Qaasim is a former university lecturer and current Chairperson of Tayo Political Party. She served as Minister of Women’s Development & Family Affairs in PM Farmaajo’s cabinet and Minister for Human Development & Public Services in PM Shirdoons’s cabinet. Maryam Qaasim is a medical doctor by training. Shugri Nur is another medical professional and a lecturer at Mohawk College in Hamilton, Ontario. Shugri volunteers her time and knowledge to help Somali mothers. Somali women have been positively visible building a better Somalia. 


Ayaan Egeh acknowledges the positive role many Somali men play to advance the cause of Somali women. To make change possible often requires not just demand but also participation and appreciation from power brokers; the business community and the politicians. 


Prime Minister Shirdoon has shown extraordinary leadership to appoint women in positions of power. His tenure marked the first time a woman was chosen to the position of Governor of Central Bank. Yussur Abrar’s appointment was courageous and commendable move. Yussur, a Somali-American professional banker, resigned after 18 days on the job, and subsequently became the de facto face of Somalia’s anti-corruption movement. 


Somalia's first female Foreign Minister Fowzia Yusuf Haji (L), lawyer representing Somalia's maritime dispute against Kenya Muna Sharmaan (C), former Governor of the Central Bank of Somalia Yussur Abraar (R)


Under PM Shirdoon’s government, Somalia was also fortunate to have Fowzia Yusuf Haji Aden as Somalia’s first female Foreign Minister while simultaneously serving as Deputy Prime Minister. Minister Fowzia has revamped the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from the ashes of successive transitional governments into a respectable federal portfolio. It worth also mentioning how lawyer Muna Sharmaan represented Somalia in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) against famous maritime dispute with Kenya. Muna rose to the occasion and made us Somalis proud by eloquently presenting the oral arguments against Kenya. 


We, the Editorial Board at HOL, congratulate Somali women for their steady progress and particularly for their impressive victories in 2016’s Somalia’s federal parliamentary elections. We also encourage Somali men to nurture young Somali girls to become strong productive women. It’s vital that Somali men, as fathers, as brothers and as sons continue supporting Somali women’s pursue of access to equal representation. It is an honour that HOL recognizes the Somali Woman as 2016 Person of the Year. 


HOL Editorial Board



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