CAWI graduate Fartuun Adan was awarded the International Women of Courage award from the U.S. Department of State, delivered by First Lady Michelle Obama. CAWI organized a celebration at City Hall where Mayor Jim Watson presented Fartuun with a certificate of recognition. Other members of City Council, Eli El- Chantiry, Marianne Wilkinson, Diane Holmes and Katherine Hobbs, along with CAWI supporters and leaders in the Somali community were there to tell stories, sing and hear from Fartuun. (See Video)
Fartuun left Somalia with her three daughters in 1996 fleeing violence that took the life of her husband. Instead of allowing the labels of 'refugee' and 'widow' define her, Fartuun continued to engage with the world around her. In Ottawa, Fartuun raised her three daughters and worked as a nurse’s aide. Fartuun graduated from CAWI Civic Participation Training and became a member of the Steering Committee. As she said in a video upon graduating, “It has given me the courage to learn more so I can make a difference in our community and our lives”. After a series of return trips to Somalia, Fartuun took over the directorship of the Elman Peace and Human Rights Centre (started by her past husband in 1991) and went on to found Sister Somalia, the first rape-crisis centre in her homeland.
When speaking to the crowd at City Hall, Fartuun pointed to a picture of women wearing bright pink hijabs and said, “When the women came together to make their voices heard in Somalia, I thought of the peach scarves CAWI women wear to show unity when going before City Council; so we all dressed in bright pink hijabs to give us courage.”
Fartuun Adan's political activism began in her country of Somalia, but the City for All Women Initiative (CAWI) gave her the tools to be heard. The local program enables women from diverse communities to participate in the municipal decision-making process.
Since she was a child, Fartuun demonstrated an uncommon strength of character.
"Actually I have six brothers, but I always have in my mind that I am smarter than them," she laughs. "Women in my country are accustomed to waiting for men to tell them what to do."
After her husband's murder in 1996, she brought her three daughters to Canada, expecting a different situation. "I came to Canada expecting women to be so powerful," she says, "but when I got here I saw only men making the decisions."
It's not in her nature to sit around and wait to be told what to do. As soon as she arrived, she immediately began learning English. She also joined a Somali women's organization. One CAWI Women's Civic Participation Training Program was not enough for the 39-year-old nursing aid, so she is attending her second training program of nine months, which includes four workshops and being involved in a women's action team, to put learning into practice. "I want to learn to try and change other women's minds and to be a role model."
Fartuun is one of a growing community of women who proudly wear peach scarves -- a symbol to demonstrate that across their diversity they share common concerns -- and actively participate in the local municipal decision-making process. When she voted for the first time in last year's municipal elections, Fartuun brought her enthusiasm, new knowledge and friends with her. "If you can change things, you feel powerful. Now these women realize we have a voice."