Somali rights activist, Nobel Peace Prize nominee Dr. Hawa Abdi dies

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Somali human rights activist and philanthropist Dr. Hawa Abdi. AFP PHOTO/Nicholas KAMM

Prominent Somali human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Dr. Hawa Abdi has died.

She was 73 years old.

The exact date and cause of death of Abdi, popularly known as Mama Hawa, was not clearly established. Somali National Television (SNTV), however, reported that she died after a short illness.

“The Ministry of Women HRD would like to send heartfelt condolences to the family & loved ones of Dr. Hawa Abdi. She was a fierce advocate for the rights of Somali women & children & dedicated her life to providing them with free healthcare. Her legacy will live on through the lives she changed,” the Ministry of Women and Human Rights Development tweeted.

Abdi was famous for providing refuge for thousands of refugees using her own money and funds from donors in Somalia after founding the Dr. Hawa Abdi Foundation, previously known as the Rural Health Development Organization.

Abdi had studied medicine in Ukraine becoming one of Somalia’s first female gynecologists. She also went on to pursue law studies and worked for government hospitals in Somalia.

In 1983, she opened a one-room clinic, on her family’s ancestral property, which over the years grew into a settlement which hosts tens of thousands of people, mainly women and children. The settlement in the Afgooye corridor, less than 15 miles from Mogadishu, includes a hospital, a school and a refugee camp.

She famously stood her ground when Islamist militants laid siege to the settlement in 2010 and attempted to force her to shut it down. The militants ended up withdrawing from the compound following intense pressure from locals and rights groups and even apologised for the incident.

In 2010, she was named one of Glamour magazine’s Women of the Year along with her daughters, Amina and Deqo. In 2012 she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and also won the BET’s Social Humanitarian Award.

She is survived by her two daughters who also both became doctors.

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