"I was divided in two. My birth clan rejected me because my husband was from a clan they were fighting. My husband's clan considered me a spy and a stranger. Where do I belong? I realized the only identity no one could take away from me was being a woman. My only clan is womanhood." -Asha Hagi Elmi
Yesterday I attended a lecture in the Kennedy Center by Asha Hagi Elmi, an amazing Somali woman who helped form "The Sixth Clan." In Somalia there are 5 traditional clans and in none of them were women properly represented, so Asha and other women from all the clans joined together, crossing traditional clan lines, to form The Sixth Clan. Asha is the head of the Save Somali Women and Children Foundation which helps educate and protect women and children. As I listened to her speak, I was reminded of Pray the Devil back to Hell and how those women were able to reach across religious lines for the greater good of their country and the people living around them. I have been very impressed with these women who have such a desire for peace and a love of their families and children that they are able to set aside any differences or even prejudices and work together. What AMAZING women are bringing such GREAT changes to Africa! These women are not only helping other women, but their whole country, even the continent. She talked about how it takes courage and tenacity as women to stand up and demand change. Courage and tenacity! But she also stressed how many times it is a very gradual change, but I say that gradual change is the way to go because it is more likely to stick.
Asha said that during the Somali civil problems "women joined together to find solutions, while men were out in the bush fighting."
She also said something that really struck me, something in which I think The United States, even as a women's rights-friendly nation, has come up short: she said the women and children are the first and last victims of war. How often do we forget the war widow or orphan? We might mention them in passing, but I think that we don't recognize how difficult that would be. Or, even women who have husbands, sons, brothers, or fathers who are gone fighting for a year or more at a time. Those women have to support their families alone. That can be extremely difficult. I know that congress and veteran's groups do a lot, but I think that we should recognize these women and children more- those who have loved ones in the current war on terror, but also those who supported and/or lost family in previous wars. I think that we should have a memorial to these women, not a giant stone sculpture on the mall, but a facility where people could go in and do a service project- tie a quilt, put together an aide kit, write a letter to a soldier, etc- which is truly the legacy of women- selfless service. I think that that would be a great way to honor the forgotten women and children- the first and last victims of war. The SHeDAISY song "Come Home Soon" helps me feel a little bit of the heartache that family members of our servicemen must feel.
The most important thing that Asha said was that the inhuman treatment and degradation of women is UNACCEPTABLE- ABSOLUTELY AND COMPLETELY and it MUST be ended. AMEN!! I am so in awe of these women- Asha, Leymah Gbowee (Founder and Executive Director, Women in Peace and Security Network - Africa ), Padma Venkataraman (vice president of the Women's India Association), etc. who do so much and who have worked so hard to change mindsets- not just about women, but about people in general! Changing mindsets seems to be one of the most difficult things to do, but it CAN BE DONE!! and it is so worth it. We can do it!
Pictures: Picture of Asha Hagi Elmi- Wikipedia; Map- CIA World Factbook; war widow- from war widows of Alabama; Somali men- NBC news.com; Somali Children- khanfactor.com; Picture of Padma Venkataraman- Rising Star Outreach homepage