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Fartuun Adan, longtime V-Day activist and OBR Somalia coordinator received the prestigious 2015 Gleitsman International Activist Award, together with her daughter Ilwad Elman. Both are founders of Elman Peace and Human Rights Center/ Sister Somalia. The award is given by the Harvard Kennedy School Center for Public Leadership (Gleitsman Program in Leadership for Social Change). Eve Ensler attended as a special guest and gave a speech about Fartuun and her inspiring work at the awards ceremony.

READ Eve’s speech below >

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I want to begin by saying I am in deepest mourning and sorrow for the terrible loss of lives this week in Lebanon, Paris, Nigeria, Syria, Iraq, Palestine and Afghanistan. I stand with the families who have lost and continue to lose lives in bombings and beheadings and shootings and I stand with my sisters throughout the world whose bodies are the landscapes on which these wars are fought.   I stand in deepest solidarity with my Muslim brothers and sisters throughout the world who are the number one victims of the terror groups of ISIS, Al Shabaab, Boko Haram and Al Quaeda and have suffered the loss of millions of lives from imperialist wars waged by the reckless and greed driven policies of the US, UK, Russia and France. And in light of the heartless and reactionary positions of some of our ignorant policy makers in the US, I want to be clear that there are many of us, if not most of here in this country who welcome Syrian and Iraqi refugees with open arms and hearts, knowing that our foreign policies have created the conditions from which they have fled. It does not take a rocket scientist to understand that escalating racism and Islamophobia not only does not create security, but instead the deepest humiliation, shaming exclusion and hurt which leads to further radicalization and violence.

I feel blessed and honored to get to introduce my extraordinary sisters Fartuun Adan & Ilwad Elman, her daughter, and to present them with the – 2015 Gleitsman International Activist Award. I can think of no two people more deserving of this honor.

I want to thank Jeffrey Gettleman at the NY Times as he is the reason I was able to meet and come to know Fartuun. I read his front-page article on the rape of women in Somalia and these paragraphs stood out:

The Elman Peace and Human Rights Center is one of the few Somali organizations helping rape victims, run by Fartuun Adan, a tall, outspoken woman whose husband, Elman, was gunned down by warlords years ago. Ms. Adan says that since the famine began, she has met hundreds of women who have been raped and hundreds more who have escaped forced marriages.

“You have no idea how difficult it is for them to come forward,” she said. “There’s no justice here, no protection. People say, ‘You’re junk’ if you’ve been raped.”

Often, the women are left wounded or pregnant, forced to seek help. Ms. Adan wants to expand her medical services and counseling for rape victims and possibly open a safe house, but it is hard to do on a budget of $5,000 a month, provided by a small aid organization called Sister Somalia. Ms. Adan wept on a recent day as she listened to the 17-year-old girl recount the story of seeing her friend stoned to death and then being gang-raped herself.

“These girls ask me, ‘How am I going to get married, what’s going to be my future, what’s going to happen to me?’ ” she said. “We can’t answer that.”

Some of the women in Ms. Adan’s office seem to have come from another time. They have made it here, with help from Elman’s network, from the deepest recesses of rural Somalia, where women are still treated like chattel.

One 18-year-old who asked to go by Ms. Nur, her common last name, was married off at 10. She was a nomad and says that to this day she has never used a phone or seen a television.

She spoke of being raped by two Shabab fighters at a displaced-persons camp in October. She said the men did not bother saying much when they entered her hut. They just pointed their guns at her chest and uttered two words: stay silent.

I contacted Fartuun immediately after reading this piece and I feel so moved, so lucky to have been on this journey with her ever since.

Fartunn and Ilwad have not stayed silent. They have bravely strategically, lovingly, fiercely found a way amidst terror and danger to protect women, support women, liberate women and change the culture that oppresses them. They have exemplified and shown the world there is another way of being and transforming reality that does not involve fighter jets, machetes, terror and rape.

They have been modeling the layered loving methods of grassroots women’s activists committing themselves wholeheartedly to the daily business of building community, listening to stories, protecting women, listening to their needs, excavating the core reasons for violence against women whether they be extreme poverty, climate change and drought, desecration of infrastructure, racism, patriarchy, or global capitalism. Their work is the opposite of imperialism, which defies the language of equality, the language of empathy and which thrives on winning, war and domination. The work of Fartunn and Ilwad comes from identification with the marginalized and abused. As they both suffered the unbearable loss of their husband and father to terrorism, they know in their beings and bodies the impact of that violence. They offer their strength, their hearts, their vulnerability, their loss, their sorrow, their compassion in service and solidarity. Rather than escalating violence they excavate the roots of it because, as we know, until one gets to the roots and is willing to look and take the time for real transformation, we will continue to live in this global spiral of death. Their program is for the assistance of victims of gender-based violence, it provides counseling, health and housing support for women in need. Elman’s work has helped raise awareness locally on the issue, and encouraged changes in government policy. Ilwad has also carried out educational workshops through the center for vulnerable members of society, and designed and implemented projects promoting alternative livelihood opportunities for both young and old.

I want to tell one story about Fartuun, which epitomizes who she is. We were at a three-day African summit of V-Day activists in Nairobi. As other activists were announcing their strategies and plans for their One Billion Rising activities, Fartuun had been pretty silent. Then at one moment she stood and in an outburst of passion and bravery she declared “The women of Somalia will rise. I don’t know how we will do it, but we will. I commit myself to this here and now.” And she did, they did.

Somali women rose and danced in the streets of Mogadishu for the first time and their energy was so powerful, so liberating, so inviting that even the first lady joined them as did hundreds of others, breaking the silence and creating an energized space of resistance and revolution.

Right now it seems to me there are two directions we can take in the world, locally and globally. We can allow our fear and individual self-interests to rule us or we can follow the examples of Fartuun and Ilwad who have put their bodies on the line, who have refused to be afraid, who understand that life is fundamentally insecure and dangerous for 99% of the people on this planet and that rather than making their own security their aim, they have chosen to open their hearts and help their sisters and brothers rise.

They have chosen life and love over comfort and by doing so they have launched a movement that is inclusive, powerful and unstoppable. Please rise for my amazing sisters, the first mother and daughter team to receive the 2015 Gleitsman International Activist Award, Fartuun Adan and Ilwad Elman.

We love you.

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