Interview with Somali Anti-FGM campaigner Ifrah Ahmed

By Ciaran O'Reilly

International Women's Initiative Staff Writer 

(Photo Source)

O'Reilly: Ifrah, the last few years have been hugely significant for you: being part of the campaign for the successful passing of anti-FGM* legislation in Ireland, winning the Women4Africa Humanitarian of the Year award, working with the Somali Prime Minister and securing his signature on a petition against FGM and your new position as his gender adviser, the launch of the Ifrah Foundation in Ireland, and now I believe a film is being made of your life - how are you feeling about it all?

Ahmed: It was great working on the FGM bill in Ireland and it's given me the opportunity to become an international campaigner and also the chance to go back home and lobby the Somali Federal Government to ban FGM. The humanitarian award received national level media coverage, with everyone in Somalia talking about the Somali woman campaigning against FGM so that has also given me a platform in Somalia for FGM awareness.

O: Take me back to life in Somalia before you left for Ireland - what are your memories and feelings of that time?

A: My first thought is of the warm weather and the heat, but then I think of the war and hearing and seeing people killed by bombings. Sometimes people have said that it was Somalis who had travelled and come back who were the ones attacking hotels and other places, as one of the bomb attackers was a female from Europe. So some politicians have said that I can't be trusted, that I am coming to bring violence. But I am still very sad to think of the girls affected by FGM and I know that I can save young girls from FGM and even death, and that has made me go to the Internally Displaced Persons camps where I have started educating mothers and fathers and grandmothers. I was so angry when I met one woman who was raped by a soldier, but because she had undergone FGM as a child the military guy raped her with a knife. I will never stop taking the risks to go to these camps so I can help vulnerable women to understand the risks of FGM.

O: How old were you when you left Somalia? Was the journey to Ireland a difficult one?

A: I was 17 years old, I left because of the war. It was not easy because I didn't know where I was going.

O: How was your experience of the Irish asylum system? How was your initial experience of living in Ireland?

A: I had a great experience of the Irish asylum. Ireland is my home now and I love living here. Somalia is where I was born. People are nice in Ireland, they treat you well and I was given the chance for life here. Now I am trying to give the same chance one girl at a time to live well in this beautiful world.

O: How did it feel to be invited back to Somalia in 2014? Why were you asked to come?

A: I was invited by the former Minister of Women and Human Rights, her Excellency Ms. Khadija Mohamed Dirie when I met her at a EU Parliament meeting. She said my voice was needed in Somalia, and she asked me to return if I wanted to make a difference. That is why I went back and started working with the Ministry of Women and Human Rights.

O: How did it feel returning to Somalia after all that time?

A: Well it was challenging because life there is not the same as in Ireland because there is no freedom of moment. If those groups which are committing violence in Somalia know about you and decide that they don't like what you are doing, they will just shoot you. It makes it hard to trust other people.

O: How are things in Somalia now, especially for women?

A: Somali women can have very different lives. Some continue to be the victims of rape and other assaults or abuse, while others manage to make a living for themselves and their families.

O: Tell me more about FGM, why you care so much about the issue and how it affects Somali women?

A: I experienced FGM myself, but it was a normal thing in Somalia, something that all Somali girls go through. For me, I was eight when I was sent to a family doctor. There were other girls there too, and afterwards we had our legs tied together and had to rest for weeks. One girl died from the bleeding. When I came to Ireland, I started to learned the truth when, with the help of a translator, a doctor explained FGM to me. After that, it was hard going through the Irish medical system, talking to doctors and nurses about it.

O: What are your hopes for FGM, and other gender issues, in Somalia?

A: I believe Somalia will get to a point where all women are safe. We have to keep fighting and my goal is to keep fighting until there is a true ban on FGM in Somalia.


*Female Genital Mutilation. For more information, visit the WHO's FGM information page. For more information about Ifrah Ahmed and her work, visit www.ifrahfoundation.org and follow her on Twitter at @ifrahfoundation.