Somali-Irish activist, Ifrah Ahmed, left Mogadishu at the age of 17 after war broke out. She evaded traffickers and was granted refugee status in Ireland in 2006. Following her immigration experience, she established the United Youth of Ireland, an NGO for young immigrants. The non-governmental organization provides support to young immigrants in their business, artistic and creative pursuits.
Ifrah is also the Founder of the Ifrah Foundation, which is devoted to eliminating Female Genital Mutilation in Africa. According to statistics, about 98 per cent of Somalia’s female population between the ages of 15 and 49 have undergone genital mutilation making the country with the highest prevalence of the FGM in the world. The practice has been unconstitutional in Somalia since 2012, but no bill has been formally passed to ban it outrightly.
Through the Foundation, Ifrah advocates for the eradication of this practice. She does this extensively through specially curated media content which highlights the negative impact of FGM on young girls.
In July 2018, Ifrah, in collaboration with the Global Media Campaign to end FGM, produced a short documentary on the death of a 10 year-old girl due to complication resulting from FGM. The documentary stars Hollywood actor, Aja Naomi King.
The Foundation has partnered with several international NGOs and governmental agencies to create projects and formulate policies and legislations. Her focus over the past four years has been to deliver programs in Somalia providing evidence-based results that inform the foundation’s scope and its proposed national action plan for the abandonment of FGM/C in Somalia.
Ifrah Ahmed sits with the LLA team to discuss her journey so far and the milestone her foundation has recorded in recent times.
I grew up in Somalia with my grandmother – I never liked cooking and cleaning in the house. I wanted to be a young girl just playing. It was quite challenging growing up in a war zone with bombing, killing, rape and violence. My decision to start my foundation stemmed from my own personal experience. Having undergone genital mutilation, I understand how much of a threat it poses to the lives of young girls. I started campaigning against the practice on my own as an individual and later on realized that I needed a foundation to raise the work to another level, to raise awareness and funding and also to protect me, as working in Somalia has its risks. I started campaigning on FGM in Ireland and Europe and have now moved my campaigning to East Africa, in particular Somalia.
The Ifrah Foundation is committed to ending FGM by 2030. We do this by implementing the National Action Plan for the elimination of FGM in Somalia. The Foundation also advocates for the law on FGM in Somalia. and works in the community alongside groups and individuals to change the practice. We believe FGM is fundamentally a feminist issue and every child saved is a victory.
Last year, we saved 20 children from death as a consequence of this practice. After a little girl called Deeqa died we made films and had radio coverage so people would know the dangers of FGM. We are working on several levels from advocacy to community empowerment to ensure genital mutilation becomes a thing of the past in Somalia.
Like every other initiative that has the propensity to change lives, the Ifrah Foundation has been met with several challenges. The core challenge we experience is the cultural barrier. The fact that FGM is a cultural practice makes it difficulty to address, people don’t want to speak out about it. The security is also a challenges that makes it difficult to work in Somalia.
Random Things about Ifrah Ahmed
I believe in sisterhood- it has been very instrumental in shaping me into the woman I have become today. I also believe ‘big sisters’ should look out for ‘younger sisters’ anyway they can.
I love football, shopping and cooking.
I look up to my mom.
Good women who do great work inspire me.
Advice for young women
Just don’t give up – don’t allow people to discourage you – follow your heart and do what you can do.
What would you like to be remembered for?
My work – so people can appreciate the difference I have made and can be inspired to make an impact.
The Leading Ladies Africa Series is a weekly interview series that focuses on women of African descent, showcases their experiences across all socio-economic sectors, highlights their personal and professional achievements and offers useful advice on how to make life more satisfying for women.
It is an off-shoot of Leading Ladies Africa; an initiative that seeks to effectively mentor and inspire women, with particular emphasis on the African continent.
Do you know any woman of African descent doing phenomenal things? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we just might feature her.