Fartuun Adan is recipient of a 2013 International Women of Courage Award from the U.S. Department of State and City for All Women Initiative.
BY DEREK SPALDING, OTTAWA CITIZEN
Wednesday, March 27, 2013
OTTAWA — Fartuun Adan will always call Ottawa home. It’s here that she took refuge in 1999, fleeing war-torn Somalia several years after her husband Elman Ali Ahmed, a well-known human rights activist, was assassinated.
She and her three daughters settled in Ottawa and it didn’t take long before Adan continued her work as an activist, often thinking of the atrocities her fellow women face back in Somalia. Over the next seven years she would eventually return home several times on her own human-rights missions and eventually made an official return in 2007.
That’s when she returned to Elman Peace and Human Rights Centre, the NGO her late husband started in 1991 and the organization they both operated before he was killed. She also co-founded Sister Somalia, a group that helps women who suffer from gender abuse.
Six years later, Adan’s work has saved hundreds of women, girls and boys. The results were so profound, she earned the distinguished honour of receiving an International Women of Courage Award from the U.S. Department of State earlier this month.
But at City Hall in front of friends and fellow human rights activists who celebrated her accomplishments Tuesday night, Adan shared stories about her return to Somalia and the reasons why she went back.
“I could have stayed in Ottawa. It’s safe, but chose to go back and do the work,” she said. “I know it’s a risk, but ... we need change. We need a government and we need a rule of law.”
Tuesday’s event was put on by the City for All Women Initiative, an organization that promotes inclusive communities and gender equality. Adan joined the group while living in Ottawa. Listening to talks and sharing ideas, helped pave the way for her return to Somalia.
“I’ve always been an activist, but I was always quiet. This group helped me speak out and gave me confidence,” she said in an interview.
She’s come a long way. Adan is now the executive director of the Elman Peace and Human Rights Centre, fighting for equality among all people of Somalia. And her work with Sister Somalia is gaining more and more international attention.
Adan has been hailed as a saviour for hundreds of young Somali women, many of them victims of rape. She has also pulled hundreds of child soldiers from their war-entrenched lives and pushed them into schools.
A City Hall council lounge packed with about 30 people watched the video clip of Adan receiving her award from U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. They watched a slide show of photos. The bright shining smiles illustrate the work Adan has done over the years.