Amina Mohamed Abdi was just 24 years old when she was first elected to Somalia’s parliament in 2012. She defeated two other candidates to win a seat saved specifically for women.
But to reach her political goal, Abdi had to go against the wishes of leaders in her Hawiye clan. Some had urged her not to run for office.
“I was asked ‘you want to be a prostitute? How can a woman represent a clan?’” she told Reuters. Abdi dismissed the comments and kept her plans. She says she thought it was important to run because a clan is not only made up of men.
Four years later, she won an open seat in Hiran, an area north of the capital Mogadishu.
Abdi is now 32 years old and is an active critic of her government. She will seek a third term in an upcoming election. She is the only woman among six politicians competing for the same seat. Abdi is a member of the opposition’s Union and Peace for Development party. She is one of 81 women lawmakers in the 275-seat legislature.
Somalia is a country with a long history of war and fighting. Abdi grew up during a violent civil war that started in the early 1990s. It is estimated that around 300,000 people died of hunger and disease as a result of the fighting.
Growing up in this environment made Abdi want to enter politics to help rebuild her country. As an eight-year-old, she remembers returning from school in Mogadishu to find her house empty and her family gone after fighting broke out. “Everywhere there were gunshots and mortar shells were landing,” she said.
Abdi later lived with her uncle, who is also in parliament, and he inspired her further to work toward her goal.
“I was … brought up … in a country when there was no government,” she said. “It is necessary for our children to have a government in order to get the basic rights: security, clean water, and quality education.”
Abdi has expressed those wishes during emotional speeches to parliament that have spread throughout the country. She often accuses the government of corruption and says this makes it unable to protect the country’s 15 million people. The government denies the accusations.
Canab Hussein is a Mogadishu store owner and mother of six. She told Reuters, “Lawmaker Amina is not from my state but I love her.”
“I learnt (about her) over the radio and on Facebook and YouTube. She is a role model, a smart female politician. She bravely speaks the truth,” Hussein said.
The parliamentary elections were set to take place in December but have repeatedly been delayed. The opposition has accused President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed of cheating by putting his allies on an electoral board.
The election delay led to protests in Mogadishu and the opposition has threatened to boycott the upcoming voting.
Winners of the legislative elections will choose Somalia’s next president. President Mohamed is seeking a second term. That vote is planned for February 8, but it is almost sure to be delayed.
I’m Armen Kassabian.
Abdi Sheikh from Associated Press reported this story. Armen Kassabian adapted it for VOA Learning English. Bryan Lynn was the editor.