Somalia’s Army Told Her to Sew a Skirt. Now she’s One of Its Top Officers

Colonel Iman Elman Somalia army top female officer

Somalilandsun: When Iman Elman determined to enlist within the Somali National Army in 2011, the officer distributing uniforms gave her one shirt and two pairs of pants. Puzzled, Ms. Elman requested in regards to the lacking shirt. There was none, he stated. The additional set of pants was supplied for her to sew into a skirt.

Ms. Elman, who was born into a household of distinguished peace and human rights activists within the Somali capital of Mogadishu however grew up in Canada, was 19 on the time and needed to be part of the entrance strains within the nation’s battle in opposition to the terror group Al Shabab. A skirt was not going to do, she thought, and politely declined the second pair of pants.

The incident, she stated, served as a reminder not solely of the challenges awaiting her within the patriarchal world of the Somali navy but in addition of the normal, conservative norms she would have to overcome.

“We still have a long way to go,” Ms. Elman remembered considering on the time.

Almost a decade later, she is now Lt. Col. Elman, having risen from foot soldier and captain, and is in cost of the military’s planning and technique — the one feminine division head and one of the best rating ladies within the Somali navy.

As one of simply 900 ladies in a military of 25,000, she helps push for accountability and effectivity in a power that’s battling one of the deadliest terror outfits in the African continent. In a nation the place ladies remain marginalized politically, economically and socially, Colonel Elman can also be working to deepen their position and assist transfer them past the menial jobs many are confined to throughout the armed forces.

For a long time, Somalia was mired in battle and chaos, rived by clan warlords competing for energy and saddled with a sequence of weak transitional governments. But Colonel Elman’s journey into the navy started because the nation’s civil conflict ebbed and a United Nations-backed authorities took control of the capital.

In 2011, as waves of Somalis from the diaspora returned dwelling, she visited Mogadishu and hatched the thought of becoming a member of the military. In discussions with troopers, nonetheless, she was shocked by how shortly the male officers tried to discourage her, saying that she can be assigned solely home roles like cooking and cleansing.

Their resistance solely steeled her willpower. “That was my driving force,” she stated in a latest phone interview from Mogadishu.

“A lot of it was me feeling the need in that moment to prove a point as to what a female can and cannot do,” she stated. “Not only do I know that I shouldn’t be limited because of my gender, but I feel like I can do just as much if not more than any of the men.”

Colonel Elman was born in Mogadishu on Dec. 10, 1991, when Somalia was starting to disintegrate. Midway to the hospital for supply, her mom, Fartuun Adan, and her father, Elman Ali Ahmed, determined it was too harmful of their neighborhood to depart her two older sisters, Almaas and Ilwad, in the home. They went again and fetched the ladies, not figuring out that they might by no means have the ability to return.

As the conflict and the perils intensified, Ms. Adan and Mr. Elman determined the wisest course was to break up: She would search refuge overseas with their daughters whereas he stayed behind to proceed their humanitarian work.

It was a courageous determination, however in the end a tragic one. On Mar. 9, 1996, Mr. Elman, who had popularized the slogan “Drop the gun, pick up the pen,” and who had arrange an institute to rehabilitate former baby troopers, was fatally shot in Mogadishu.

By then, Ms. Adan had acquired refugee standing in Canada and was elevating their daughters in Ottawa. Colonel Elman stated her mom not solely reminded them of their roots however ingrained in them the notion that their gender shouldn’t restrict their ambitions.

In 2006, with violence persevering with in Somalia, Ms. Adan returned to Mogadishu to head the Elman Peace and Human Rights Center, a corporation that’s persevering with the rights work of her husband. In 2010, she was joined by her daughter Ilwad, and the 2 have focused much of their efforts on women, kids and susceptible members of Somali society.

When in 2011, Colonel Elman, then a basic arts pupil at University of Ottawa, opted to be part of the navy, many had been shocked that she was not following in her father’s footsteps. But she didn’t see a navy profession as contradictory to her father’s values and aspirations, she stated.

“When people look at it, they do see the irony,” she stated. “But the reality is that my father and I are both striving for the same thing. We are both working for peace.”

Her sister Ilwad — who was shortlisted for the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize — agrees, saying that whereas there’s “intentional division” between navy options and civilian approaches, there’s “a lot of complementarity in the work that we do.”

Sometimes, when her sister comes again from the entrance strains, she stated, she brings again baby troopers whom the middle helps reintegrate into society.

Last November, the Elman household’s religion in rebuilding Somalia was shaken after Almaas was killed by an unknown assailant. Colonel Elman, who has misplaced shut colleagues within the conflict and has survived three roadside bomb explosions and numerous encounters with the Shabab, stated she “broke down” after the taking pictures.

But after taking two weeks to mourn, “we realized that there was no turning back for us,” Colonel Elman stated. “We don’t have that option because we have already sacrificed so much.”

The sisters stated they had been again at their jobs by the tip of December.

For now, Colonel Elman is engaged on instituting and strengthening reforms aimed toward creating a military that represents the true pursuits of the state as a substitute of clan allegiances. She has additionally begun an effort to practice military officers on human rights and sexual assault — one thing, she stated, that was seen as “nearly impossible” to implement when she first instructed it to her superiors.

As the military’s chief planner, Colonel Elman can also be working to enhance the situations of ladies within the military by instituting quotas in recruitment and coaching packages and creating an surroundings to encourage extra ladies to enroll, together with separate washing amenities and locations to change garments.

Ms. Elman stated there may be nonetheless a great distance to go “in terms of changing the mind-set” of individuals in Somalia round ladies serving, or holding key positions, within the military.

“You are not exactly sure if the country is ready to have a female general,” she stated. But it doesn’t matter what, she stated, “I am very proud of how far we’ve come, and even the small milestones that we have reached have been quite significant.”