When I first arrived in Somaliland in April 2011, I became immediately aware of the societal norms and cultural value system that was distinctly based on gender. I saw how the male perspective was the only one that mattered regarding human sexuality, while women's reproductive rights were non-existent. Women in Somaliland have no voice -- their bodies are culturally controlled long before puberty and their very worth is male-dictated. Their maternal health is a matter of chance and luck yet an abundance of children is inherently expected and valued above their well-being and often their survival.
Despite the immense adversity of circumstances I witnessed, I was inspired by the great work I saw Edna Adan doing in her native country. Edna became a personal hero of mine -- even just from reading the chapter about her in the book Half The Sky. She exemplifies what it means to be a true "nurse," as well as an ambassador of her nation's women. Edna is a genuine inspiration who has earned every bit of respect and esteem through her determined efforts in a wildly patriarchal society.
At the tender age of seven, Edna personally suffered the shock, harm and regret of FGM (Female Genital Mutilation). But she has found the courage to champion wiser methods which accommodate Somaliland customs, while progressing away from the countless fistulas and many other miseries women, children and entire families suffer unnecessarily in reproduction. She has trained young women from all over her country to be professional midwives in order to service the hard-to-reach majority of Somaliland's people. Also, Edna brings people together from all over the world to finance or donate emergency help for those who otherwise have no hope of proper medical attention and care.
Because of Edna, I clearly see the interconnectedness between access to education and opportunity for women and preventing maternal mortality. When a mother dies, all her children are orphaned and the entire community is left to endure the burden of her void -- emotionally, physically and spiritually.
These issues need not be overwhelming. There are so many ways to empower women: via education, the right to vote and the right to participate in sustainable local commerce to name a few. Opportunities like this aid women in so many ways, contributing to their families, exponentially elevating their communities, and increasing a woman's worthiness of preventative healthcare.
Since coming back to the U.S., I've realized that needless suffering and death can be avoided if women are invested in and valued culturally for more than just their reproductive capacity. I realized that I myself am guilty of taking my human rights and the control I have over my own body for granted. This journey galvanized my belief in the need for equality in women's representation in governmental policy around the world; as a human rights issue.
I am so grateful to Edna Adan for my experiences in Somaliland. Although I saw the deprivation of poverty, I witnessed how beautifully the human spirit can persevere even in unforgiving drought. Thanks to Ms. Adan I grew in my understanding and compassion for cultures quite different from my own. My visit with the kind people of Somaliland encouraged me to lend my voice to the life-and-death issues that are often ignored, or worse tolerated, in spite of being shockingly preventable.
Edna gives me hope through her "power of example." She once told me the fable of the tortoise who, without "sticking his neck out, gets nowhere." And just like her native desert survivor, the Tortoise, Edna Adan is a marvel of accomplishment on behalf of her people.
This Mother's Day, please support her work so that her legacy continues to flourish through her many students and grateful patients -- whether via midwifery, medicine or her womanly wisdom.