On this fateful Thursday May 18th, 2023, the tale of Teresa Wright’s journalistic prowess coupled with Shafei Mohamed Dahir’s camera skills and Jesse Sposato’s editing mastery has left us in a state of mind that can only be described as perplexed and bursting. The story they weave features Ilwad Elman, who at the age of 20, knew that returning to Somalia meant endangering her life and well-being but remained resolute in her decision to embark on this journey. Born in Mogadishu during a tumultuous period in Somalia’s history, she had grown up in Canada before deciding to return to her country of origin in 2010.
Elman was the second eldest of three children of Elman Ali Ahmed, a human rights activist assassinated in 1996. Elman and her family had fled Somalia, and three years after her father’s death, they settled in Ottawa. Elman had hoped to stay for a month with her mother, Fartuun Adan, who had taken over as the executive director at the Elman Peace and Human Rights Center. However, Elman’s experiences in Somalia, where sexual violence and rape were commonplace, led her to remain in the country alongside her mother to create a safe space for women. Elman’s involvement with Sister Somalia, the first rape crisis center in the country, began as a small one-room office, which later expanded to ten centers across the country.
One of the key benefits offered by Sister Somalia involves a recovery-to-empowerment model that helps women escape violent relationships. Under the guidance of Elman and her mother, survivors receive individual counseling and work to challenge social norms that perpetuate violence against women. Elman maintains that this approach extends beyond merely supporting individuals to re-establishing protection structures within the community.
The danger associated with Ilwad Elman’s work is high and puts her at risk. However, as human rights defenders, she remains resolute in her mission, leaving us bedazzled and speechless.