Towards the end of last year, a young Somalian woman was awarded the prestigious German Africa Prize for her groundbreaking techniques and compassionate efforts, just a few years after being voted the African Young Personality of the Year in 2016, awarded the 2016 Right the Wrongs Award from Oxfam America, and honored with the 2015 Gleitsman International Activist Award from Harvard University. That woman is Ilwad Elman, a 29-year-old Somali who grew up in Canada and returned to her home country in 2010 to co-found the Elman Peace and Human Rights Center in the capital city of Mogadishu.
Her most recent accolade was given in recognition of her efforts to help former rape survivors and child soldiers reenter civilian life in Mogadishu and cope with the various traumas inflicted on them. Indeed, her journey as a young, inspiring Arab and African woman has been filled with hope, determination, bravery, and unfortunately tragedy.
Her father is the late Elman Ali Ahmed, an entrepreneur and peace activist in the 1990s who was famously known for the phrase “Drop the Gun, Pick up the Pen.” He was killed in 1996 for his human rights work and is known to this day as the Somali Father of Peace. Her sister, Almaas Elman, who had also returned to Somalia to do humanitarian work, was shot and killed near the Mogadishu airport in 2019.
In honor of her father, Ilwad and her mother Fartuun Adan set up the Elman Peace Centre in Mogadishu, and today are working with over 170 people in eight branches across Somalia. Ilwad is today known as a leading advocate for peace and justice in her country, which is still grappling with conflict and civil war that started around the late 1980s to early 1990s.
According to her organization’s website, she is also “an advocate for the Kofi Annan foundation’s latest initiative called Extremely Together, where she and 9 other youth leaders under the mentorship of Mr. Kofi Annan are Preventing Violent Extremism by inspiring, engaging and empowering youth globally.” She also serves as the chair of the Child Protection Gender Based Violence Case Management Group in Mogadishu; is a founding member of the Advisory Committee for Researching Gender Based Violence Social Norms in Somalia and South Sudan; is a member of the international practitioners’ network for civilian casualty recording; and is as an expert in the Women Waging Peace Network for Inclusive Security.
In addition, she has served as the One Young World Ambassador to Somalia since 2013; completed President Barrack Obama’s flagship White House fellowship for Young African Leaders in 2014; and was appointed Youth Ambassador to Somalia for Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict, also in 2014.