San Francisco Chronicle
Candidate seeks to defy cultural norms in contest
MOGADISHU, Somalia — The woman who broke barriers as the first female foreign minister and deputy prime minister in culturally conservative Somalia now aims for the country’s top office as the Horn of Africa nation moves toward a long-delayed presidential election.
Parliament member Fawzia Yusuf H. Adam is well aware of the challenges in winning votes in a nation where women often remain marginalized. In an interview with the Associated Press, she described the struggle of leading a foreign ministry staff that was overwhelmingly male.
“They were very reluctant to collaborate with me just because I am a female,” she said.
Even as more educated women return to Somalia from the large diaspora to help rebuild the country after three decades of conflict, attitudes toward Adam’s run for office are mostly skeptical, if sympathetic. Even friends and colleagues see her chances as next to impossible because of her gender.
“She’s good, but unfortunately she’s a woman,” said Abdiwahid Mohamed Adam, a doctor at Mogadishu Memorial Hospital. Complicating her bid, he said, is the fact that Adam comes from the breakaway region of Somaliland, a comparatively stable area in the north that has sought international recognition as an independent country for years.
But the soft-spoken Adam, a widow and mother of three, said she believes her run for the presidency is worthwhile, not futile, on several levels, while the timing of the election has been pushed back until the end of the year amid political tensions.
“I want to break this barrier against women, so that in the near future many others will have the courage to run and even win,” she said.
Somalia’s years of insecurity marked by devastating attacks by the al Qaeda-linked al-Shabab extremist group also have driven Adam to run.
Like others across Somalia, she has watched as the insecurity weakened the country’s foundation. High unemployment, poor education and one of the world’s least-equipped health systems are all a result. Corruption and political squabbling haven’t helped.
“I thought a woman may be what this country needs, the leadership of a woman, to bring peace and stability,” Adam said.
She first entered politics in her hometown of Hargeisa in Somaliland years ago but fled to Mogadishu, saying local politicians saw her as a threat. She later started a political party, the National Democratic Party, and rose to some of the country’s highest offices.