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Somali human rights activists win top Swedish human rights prize

Ilwad Elman at the Elman Peace and Human Rights Centre in Mogadishu   -  
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Somali activists, Fartuun Adan and Ilwad Elman, have won the 2022 Swedish Right Livelihood Award - considered by some as an alternative to the Nobel Peace Prize – for their courage in promoting human rights and peace in the face of the ongoing terrorism and gender-based violence in their country.

The NGO praised the mother and daughter team for using innovative and culturally relevant solutions to support survivors of gender-based violence, disarm and rehabilitate former child combatants, and equip women and youth with job and leadership skills.

Long-standing commitment to peace

Their organisation, the Mogadishu-based Elman Peace and Human Rights Centre, was founded by Adan and her husband, Elman Ali Ahmed, in 1990.

The family had moved to a neighbouring country when the civil war broke out in Somalia in 1991, following the overthrow of the dictator, Siad Barre.

When Ahmed was assassinated in 1996, Adan took her three daughters into exile in Canada. But in 2007, despite her daughters’ pleas, she felt the need to return home to continue her husband’s work.

Thirty-three-year-old Ilwan followed her mother back to Somalia in 2010, inspired she says by young Somalis who were desperate for change.

Scourge of sexual violence

The United Nations has linked the issue of sexual violence against women to the prevailing conditions of insecurity in Somalia. Last year, it reported an ‘alarming’ 80 per cent increase in known cases.

The mother and daughter team say, however, that they do believe attitudes are slowly changing.

‘Somalia now has changed a lot when it comes to sexual violence. There was a time when no one could talk about it, you denied it, no one was saying we have this problem. Now people are accepting the problem we have,’ said Adan.

They founded the Sister Somalia initiative, the first-ever rape crisis centre in Mogadishu which supports sexual violence survivors and those who have escaped forced marriages.

‘I think that martial arts for women and for girls are very innovative tool. We do know that power is what is being used to rape women and that power sometimes comes in the form of weapons, guns, but sometimes it is not even weapons that have been used against women to take that power over them and for women to be equipped with confidence, with skills, it is something that we definitely ensure that they are better protected,’ says Elman who is director of programmes and development at the centre.

It’s not the first time the two women have been honoured for their fight for human rights, often at great personal risk, but have vowed to continue their work empowering women and young people as they help to rebuild Somalia.

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