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Somali Human Rights Defender Honored with International Women of Courage Award
March 5, 2021

Somali human rights defender Zahra Mohamed Ahmad is one of an extraordinary group of women selected to receive the U.S. Secretary of State’s annual International Women of Courage Award.  The award recognizes women around the world who have demonstrated exceptional courage and leadership in advocating for peace, justice, human rights, gender equality, and women’s empowerment – often at great personal risk and sacrifice.

Mama Zahra, as she is affectionately known, decided to return to Somalia in 2000 and has fought since thenfor justice, equalityand Somali unity. Her biggest loss, she said, came when her only son was killed.  But despite that tragedy, she and her colleagues at the organization she founded, the Somali Women Development Center (SWDC), continue to support the voiceless and marginalized.

U.S. Ambassador to Somalia Donald Yamamoto recognized Mama Zahra for her work, saying, “Mama Zahra has demonstrated exceptional bravery in defending the rights of the most vulnerable, putting her life and safety constantly at risk.  She is an example to us all of the positive difference that a committed individual can make in the lives of others.”

Zahra Mohamed Ahmad has been at the forefront of human rights advocacy in Somalia for more than 20 years.  As an accomplished lawyer, she began providing legal aid for sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) survivors, women on remand status, and women in pre-trial detention. She leads the SWDC in reporting on human rights violations and cases of abuse and supporting survivors through legal assistance.  Her organization established Somalia’s first free hotline service to combat SGBV and operates one-stop centers for SGBV survivors, mobile legal clinics, family care centers, safe spaces for women and girls, and community child protection centers for internally displaced children.

Mama Zahra and other honorees will be recognized on March 8 in a virtual ceremony hosted by U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken.  The First Lady of the United States, Dr. Jill Biden, will deliver remarks to recognize the courageous accomplishments of these women.  The ceremony will be live streamed on www.state.gov at 6:00 p.m. East Africa Time.

From the inception of the International Women of Courage Award in March 2007 to today, the U.S. Department of State has recognized more than 155 awardees from more than 75 countries. U.S. diplomatic missions overseas nominate one woman of courage from their respective host countries, and finalists are selected and approved by senior Department of State officials. All awardees will participate later this year in a Department of State-sponsored International Visitor Leadership Program virtual exchange to connect with Americans who also are working to defend human rights.