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In Conservative Somalia, a Rare Woman Presidential Candidate

The woman who broke barriers as the first female foreign minister and deputy prime minister in culturally conservative Somalia now aims for the country’s top office as the Horn of Africa nation moves toward a long-delayed presidential election, The Associated Press reported Sunday.

Parliament member Fawzia Yusuf H. Adam is well aware of the challenges in winning votes in a nation where women often remain marginalized. In an interview with The Associated Press, she described the struggle of leading a foreign ministry staff that was overwhelmingly male.

“They were very reluctant to collaborate with me just because I am a female,” she said.

Even as more educated women return to Somalia from the large diaspora to help rebuild the country after three decades of conflict, attitudes toward Adam’s run for office are mostly skeptical, if sympathetic. Even friends and colleagues see her chances as next to impossible because of her gender.

“She’s good, but unfortunately she’s a woman,” said Abdiwahid Mohamed Adam, a doctor at Mogadishu Memorial Hospital.

Complicating her bid, he said, is the fact that Adam comes from the breakaway region of Somaliland, a comparatively stable area in the north that has sought international recognition as an independent country for years.

But the soft-spoken Adam, a widow and mother of three, said she believes her run for the presidency is worthwhile, not futile, on several levels, while the timing of the election has been pushed back once again amid political tensions from mid-October toward the end of the year.

“I want to break this barrier against women so that in the near future many others will have the courage to run and even win,” she said, adding that it’s time to fight for the rights of women.

Somalia’s years of insecurity marked by devastating attacks by the al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab extremist group also have driven Adam to run.

“There was mayhem in this country for the past 30 years,” she said. “Young people are dying like flies, killing each other, exploding themselves, killing other people.”

Like others across Somalia, she has watched as the insecurity weakened the country’s foundation. High unemployment, poor education and one of the world’s least equipped health systems are all a result. Corruption and political squabbling haven’t helped.

“I thought a woman may be what this country needs, the leadership of a woman, to bring peace and stability,” Adam said.

Her presidential campaign has been relatively low-profile because of the insecurity and the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of holding large public rallies, Adam prefers smaller indoor gatherings.

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