Offering Women a Lifeline in War-Torn Somalia

By Giving List Women   |   May 20, 2024
The light within her burns stronger than any darkness. Elman Peace supports survivors to rebuild and reclaim their lives through comprehensive services.

When Ilwad Elman visited her native Somalia, she was eager to reunite with her peace activist mother, who had moved back home three years before.

Elman wanted to understand what had compelled her mother to leave her and her two sisters behind, swapping a peaceful existence in Canada for one marred by decades of civil war. 

But in Somalia, Elman’s search for understanding blossomed into a powerful purpose. After seeing firsthand the discrimination her widowed mother faced, along with the pervasive violence, marginalization, and abuse endured by countless Somali women, Elman was propelled to pick up the torch of activism like her parents. 

“Somalia unveiled a truth I hadn’t known and that fueled my passion to join my mother … and her cause didn’t just unite us as mother and daughter, but as women,” says Elman, chief operating officer for the Somalia-based Elman Peace.

She stayed in Somalia with her mother, Fartuun Adan, to carry on the legacy and vital work of her father Elman Ali Ahmed, whose life was tragically cut short. In his honor, Fartuun founded the Elman Peace Centre.

Somalia’s First Rape Crisis Center

Months after Elman’s arrival in Somalia, a devastating drought and famine gripped the country. Hundreds of thousands of Somali women and children, desperate for aid, undertook arduous journeys on foot to the capital, Mogadishu. But the internally displaced persons (IDP) camps were breeding grounds for sexual violence. Recognizing the complete absence of services to protect women and provide safe housing, health care, or violence prevention measures, Elman felt compelled to create a solution.

Elman and her mother raised funds to create Sister Somalia, the nation’s first rape crisis center and safe house, through Elman Peace. Today, the Elman Peace program serves thousands of women, provides life-saving treatment and shelter for survivors, helps girls and women rebuild and reclaim their lives through mental health support, education, vocational skills development, and provides them with grants and coaching to establish businesses. 

When 15-year-old Zahra was referred to Sister Somalia several years ago, she was a mother of two who had been forced into marriage, was then divorced, and ostracized by her family. The Sister Somalia program provided her with education, counseling, and productive skills that helped her start her own beauty business.

“Zahra hung a sign outside of her home, launching her entrepreneurial journey, a turning point that changed everything,” Elman says.  

“Elman Peace is my real family,” says Zahra, now 22, through a translator. “They did what my own family should have done, and they do this for everyone.”

“It’s a Movement.”

The Sister Somalia program also engages in tireless advocacy, Elman says. They championed a landmark law that criminalizes female genital mutilation that passed earlier this year.

Elman, a Nobel Peace Prize nominee, is buoyed by the progress, despite the undeniable risks and tragedies. Her sister Almaas, also a rights activist, was fatally shot in the capital in 2019.

“The fight persists, but with our partners’ support, Sister Somalia has become more than a project – it’s a beacon of hope in Somalia. It’s a replicable model, a self-sustaining movement. Together, we invest in acute locations, empowering women to build support systems that grow with them. They thrive, and the movement ripples outward,” she says. “It’s humbling to witness the transformative impact we achieve together.”


Elman Peace Center – Somalia

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Chief Operating Officer: Ilwad Elman


Elman Peace is dedicated to promoting peace, cultivating leadership and empowering the marginalized brackets of society to be decision makers in the processes that ensure their wellbeing.

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