Nadhifo Abdulahi is a vocal voice against Female Genital Mutilation. Despite the struggles of growing up in a refugee camp, she has gone through school and wants other girls to have the same chance
Among the Somali people, the birth of a girl is regarded as a bad omen. So extreme is this belief that a mother who has given birth to too many girls must do everything within her power to have a boy, otherwise she will be divorced.
Worse, when the girl reaches age four or five years, they are subjected to the brutal practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). According to customs, this act ensures that the young girl does not have sexual desires. Nadhifo Abdulahi aka Brownkey was born under such circumstances, facing a tough childhood in Dadaab camp.
According to UNHCR, the Dagahaley Refugee Camp, where she was born, was part of the Dadaab Refugee Complex, which houses over 250,000 refugees.
Established in 1991, Dadaab refugee camp came up soon after the civil war broke out in Somalia. Consequently, people, mainly emaciated women and children who walked many miles, filled the camp. Some of the refugees had been brutally tortured on the way and traumatised.
Nadhifo’s parents were among the people who travelled via dangerous routes to Dadaab camp. “At times I had to go to school on an empty stomach and come back home in the evening, just to take water and little porridge,” says Nadhifo. Consequently, from the name and conditions of the camp, she calls herself ‘Dadaabian.’
Perturbed by such conditions, Nadhifo, now an activist and the first female blogger living in Dadaab camp, created a foundation dubbed, Brownkey foundation, which campaigns against FGM as well as gender-based violence.
Brownkey is the nickname her grandfather gave her as a young girl. “I desire to counter negative cultural beliefs and advocate for the education of the girl-child. Because of the prevalence of FGM in the camp, young girls end up missing school,”she says. She is privileged that her parents played a pivotal role in ensuring that she goes to school despite the hardship at the camp.
Nadhifo’s determination and resilience has given her the strength to complete her O-Levels successfully in Kenya, and has since earned a university diploma in Community Development.
As soon as she completed her studies, Nadhifo joined FilmAid as an outreach facilitator. Here is where she learnt to mobilise the community around and shared concerns as well as leading discussions on challenging subjects such as early marriages and gender-based violence.
NGO’s operating in Dadaab Refugee Camp are encouraged to hire refugee youth who have completed high school so they can continue to gain skills while contributing to their communities.
“Through the journalism training programmes that were available at FilmAid, I was able to learn a lot and also meeting other people who are dedicated in advocating for girl-child education. This has informed what I’m doing in my initiative today,” says Nadhifo.
She began her organisation by forming women advocacy groups that spoke against FGM. Her methods include making the perpetrators get involved in the campaign to end the vice by making them feel the amount of pain they have brought upon women.
Sit with circumcisers
“I sometimes sit with the circumcisers and mothers whose girls are the victims of FGM. There are times I even organised session between the perpetrators and their victims,” she says.
Nadhifo also meets with the community leaders and does household visits to ensure that the message is disseminated to the entire community.
The frequent household visits that she makes also reiterates the messages assisting them understand the significance of ending the practice. She is also a blogger and this has enabled her to create a platform for her campaign and in addition gather more support and bring more influential people on board.
With more than a million hits on her blog, Nadhifo has created a powerful social media platform that fights for the rights of refugees, especially women and girls. At only 25, Nadhifo is already a leader inspiring younger women and girls, especially in the camp, to have the courage to bring about change in their communities.
“The social media is a powerful platform and I use Facebook and my blog to discuss FGM issues as well as tackle other aspects that affect refugees,” she says.
So far, nearly 300 young girls have been assisted through her programme and seven girls are in school, having escaped being victims of FGM. Some of her sponsors in this mission include Akili Dada and Global Media campaign.