5 things to know about Somali-Canadian activist Ilwad Elman, who was shortlisted for the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize

Also, she’s only 29.

Badass activist Ilwad Elman has been shortlisted for the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize. She came to Canada as a child refugee. She’s been a voice for women’s rights in Canada. And she’s a leader in the fight for peace in Somalia. At only 29 years, Ilwad Elman is a force.

Here are five things you may not know about her:

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1. She came to Canada as a child refugee

Ilwad Elman was a child when her dad was murdered in Somalia. After his death, she and her family fled the country. She arrived in Canada as a child refugee with her mother and her two sisters. Ilwad grew up in Ottawa. Now, she fights for women’s rights globally and has meetings with the Canadian government (casual).

 

2. She founded the first rape crisis centre in Somalia

Ten years ago, in the midst of famine and war, Ilwad created Somalia’s very first rape crisis centre. It’s called Sister Somalia and it’s still running today. She describes how things were when she started the crisis centre:

‘We had military vehicles outside of the camps raping women and girls as they pleased, there was no protection… We would provide them with the closest prophylaxis treatment and counselling, but the need was overwhelming,’ she told Vogue.

Ilwad believes the #metoo movement is ‘an issue that unites women everywhere’.

 

3. Her activist father was assassinated when she was a child

Ilwad’s father worked with former child soldiers in Somalia. Through his ‘Drop the gun, pick up the pen’ campaign, he educated young men and steered them away from violence, Ottawa Citizen reports. She is now continuing his legacy. And expanding it:

‘”Drop the gun, pick up the pen” is about creating alternative livelihoods for young men and children at the front lines, and it started with my father 20 years ago… We’re actually scaling outside of Somalia and bringing our solutions to other countries, like Mali, Cameroon and Nigeria,’ she explains.

Her father was killed in the capital, Mogadishu, by a shot to the back of his head when Ilwad was a child.

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4. Her role models include Kofi Annan and her mother

Former UN icon Kofi Annan helped shape Ilwad’s worldview. ‘A lot of my thinking about global diplomacy and governance was inherited from him,’ she says.

Ilwad’s mother is her hero and mentor. Both Ilwad’s parents were human-rights activists. Their journeys and their work sparked her passion for activism:

‘We’ve always been raised to understand that we had a big responsibility, whether that meant going back to Somalia or doing activism in Canada. It was never prescribed for us exactly what that would look like, but we always had strong encouragement that there was a bigger purpose for us,’ she explains.

 

5. Why she’s been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize

Her work at the Elman Peace and Human Rights Center in Mogadishu is everything. Her mother, Fartuun Elman, founded the centre and they continue to work in conflict zones. Sister Somalia is evolving. They still help victims of sexual abuse, but they are also working to strengthen Somalia’s sexual-assault laws.

How does she feel about it? ‘It’s an incredible honour to be considered,’ says Ilwad. She also points out the importance of representation:

‘Win or lose, I think a lot of people feel like they have seen themselves in me in this process, that it is possible that a 21st-century leader is not an old white man in a boardroom, and young women who tick every minority box can also be in positions of leadership and be recognised for it,’ Vogue reports.

This is an important point in light of the 2019 nominees. Some of the other candidates include US President Donald Trump (*sigh*) and fearless teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg.

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