Somalilandsun- Edna Adan Ismail is one of the most influential women in Africa today. She is a talismanic figure whose life and work provide an inspiration to women throughout Africa and beyond. Her long career in public life, which has seen her making lasting contributions in the fields of health, peace building and foreign affairs, has been marked by an exceptional devotion to advancing the cause of women
From her time as a trainee nurse in London in the 1950s to her present running of the pioneering Edna Adan Hospital, she has never ceased to be a tireless campaigner and champion of women’s rights and health
Born in Hargeisa in the then British Protectorate of Somaliland, Edna Adan trained as a nurse and midwife in London 1954-1961 before moving to Libya in 1965 to share her skills as a midwife trainer on behalf of the World Health Organisation (WHO). She returned to the Horn of Africa in 1967 when her husband, Mohamed Haji Ibrahim Egal, became Prime Minister of the Somali Republic. (He would later become the first President of Somaliland).
Despite the tragic setback of the civilian government being overthrown by a military coup led by General Mohamed Siyad Barre in October 1969, Edna Adan persevered with her work and in 1976, became the first woman director of the Somali Ministry of Health, a post she held for two years. In 1986, as Somalia descended into civil war, she re-joined the WHO as regional nursing/midwifery advisor, serving as a technical officer from 1987 to 1991, and then as WHO representative in the Republic of Djibouti from 1991-97.
Following the death of her husband in 2002, Edna Adan Ismail embarked upon a career in politics and served as minister of social affairs and family welfare in Somaliland and as a stellar foreign minister from 2003 – 2006. Her time in government is remembered fondly and she became a much-loved figure in the land of her birth. As the only female minister in the government at the time she used her position to raise the concerns and amplify the voice of women.
Faced with a health care system that had been utterly destroyed by the civil war, and the highest rate of maternal and infant mortality in the world, in 2002 she founded the Edna Adan Hospital with the aim of not only training fully-qualified health care professionals but also to train and dispatch thousands of midwives throughout the country. In a region where FGM remained a widespread practice she trained midwives in modern birthing techniques and became a fearless and unstinting opponent of the practice of FGM. She went on to found the Edna Adan University in Hargeisa in 2012.
Edna’s story chimes with the aspirations of young women everywhere. It is no surprise that it has struck a chord with so many, her story being included in the PBS documentary Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide in 2012, and her work being regularly featured and praised by prominent broadcasters such as Oprah Winfrey and Nicholas Kristoff.
Among her numerous awards, Edna Adan is an officer of the French Légion d’honneur (2012), and a Commandeur Dans l’Ordre National du 27 Juin, Djibouti (1997). Most recently she was short-listed for the European parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. She also holds an honorary award from Clark University, the Universities of Cardiff and Pennsylvania, and the Chancellor’s Gold Medal from the University of Pretoria.