For promoting peace, demilitarisation and human rights in Somalia in the face of terrorism and gender-based violence.
Fartuun Adan and Ilwad Elman are Somali human rights defenders who lead community-based peacebuilding initiatives and provide life-saving support to marginalised groups. Through their organisation Elman Peace, the mother and daughter have used innovative and culturally relevant solutions to support survivors of gender-based violence, disarm and rehabilitate former child combatants, and equip women and youth with job and leadership skills.
Elman Peace’s community-based disarmament and reintegration approach addresses the underlying causes of extremism, and in doing so, provides opportunities for both former combatants and at-risk youth. Adan and Elman’s process includes psychosocial support, rehabilitation, education, skills training and job creation. Due to its success, Adan and Elman’s model has been scaled to address similar conflicts throughout West and Central Africa.
Elman and Adan have institutionalised Elman Peace’s approach so that it lasts for generations to come. With the vision to democratise knowledge, rather than increase the number of Elman Peace locations, they developed the network Peace by Africa, which has grown to over 60 peacebuilding organisations. Together with Peace by Africa, Elman Peace is empowering women and the next generation of youth to fully and equally participate in the processes that ensure their wellbeing.
Fartuun Adan and Ilwad Elman have set out to build peace in Somalia by reintegrating former combatants and tackling the historically silenced gender-based violence affecting girls and women. Leaving behind the safety of exile, they came back to their home country to carry on the legacy of Elman Ali Ahmed, who was brutally assassinated for his work. Their intergenerational and holistic work provides a safe haven to many in the midst of instability.
Since the fall of the dictatorial regime of President Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991, Somalia and its people have endured rampant violence stemming from civil war and the insurgency of the Al-Shabaab extremist group. The conflict has contributed to a violent and restricted space for women. According to the United Nations, in 2021, the country witnessed an “alarming” 80 per cent increase in sexual violence compared to 2019, often resulting in the death of victims. Domestic legislation to counter such practices is frequently stalled in Somalia’s fragmented political system.
In a country where more than 60 per cent of the population is younger than 25, the use of children by armed groups and intelligence services has endured throughout the conflict. A 2022 report by the UN Secretary General highlighted that “grave violations against children committed by all parties to the conflict continue unabated.” The report added that children are subject to violations “at staggering levels, making Somalia one of the direst situations on the children and armed conflict agenda.”
The work of Fartuun Adan began in 1990 with the founding of Elman Peace, together with her husband, the prominent Somali peace activist Elman Ali Ahmed. Their early work focused on the “Drop the Gun, Pick Up the Pen'' initiative, which has contributed to the disarmament, rehabilitation and reintegration of thousands of young people from clan-based militias. Due to the deteriorating security situation in the country, Fartuun Adan and her daughter, Ilwad Elman, were in asylum in Canada when Elman Ali Ahmed was assassinated in 1996.
Not content to remain in exile while the conflict continued, Adan returned to Somalia in 2006 to develop the work of Elman Peace and the legacy of Ahmed. She was then joined by Elman in 2010. Under their leadership, Elman Peace has pioneered projects across Somalia in the intersecting thematic priorities of Peace and Justice, Climate and Security, Human Rights and Protection, Gender and Equality issues, Education, Livelihood and Job Creation.
Fighting gender-based violence
Upon their return, Adan and Elman co-founded Sister Somalia, the first rape crisis centre in the country to support survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. There are now centres in eight regions of Somalia providing psychosocial counselling, trauma healing and emergency medical care. Their services also include legal aid, safe-house and transitional homes for survivors, while also making provisions for their education and livelihood.
Another important facet of their work to counter gender-based violence is their home for abandoned children. The purpose is to respond to the clandestine and endemic killing of babies, unsafe abortions and the overwhelming number of babies dumped in the streets of Mogadishu soon after birth. The programme sets out to create an alternative care environment with the primary goal of providing protective care for abandoned infants. For women and girls with unwanted pregnancies, the shelter also provides accessible services whilst ensuring child protection.
Disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration
One of the most significant achievements of Adan and Elman has been their pioneering approach to the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration of former combatants, including child soldiers. Their model, with a focus on localisation, shifts the traditional approach to peacebuilding processes by creating a space for critical thinking and engagement instead of the typical international and interventionist model. Elman Peace’s experience with community-based disarmament and reintegration during an active armed conflict has been a significant contribution to the global effort to localise peace processes.
Elman Peace’s rehabilitation work with former combatants places an emphasis on mental health. Recognising that traditional psychosocial support was ineffective due to cultural norms, Elman Peace began exploring how to utilise Somalia’s coastal environment through ocean and surf therapy to address psychological trauma. The Ocean Therapy projects create an entry point for discourse among former combatants and reflect the need to address mental health and trauma caused by prolonged conflict.
The scope of Adan and Elman’s expertise in peacebuilding is not limited to Somalia, as they have also shared their knowledge and methodologies at the regional and international level. Through Elman Peace, Elman has created a methodology for community-based peacebuilding in ongoing conflicts that is now being translated into similar contexts across Africa. This work led Elman to become a UN Expert Advisor on Peace and Security to two consecutive UN Secretary Generals. What’s more, her written policy was cited in UN Security Council Resolution 2250, a resolution on peace, youth and security. She has also briefed the UN Security Council on several occasions.
In 2018, Elman Peace partnered with the UN Development Programme to create the Peace by Africa network. Through this network, Elman Peace has expanded their peacebuilding efforts to four countries in the Lake Chad Basin Region and four countries in the Great Lakes Region of Africa. Peace by Africa now encompasses 61 peacebuilding organisations across Africa, including 2021 Right Livelihood Laureate Marthe Wandou’s organisation, ALDEPA. The network does not only coordinate civil society organisations but provides capacity building, cross-border cooperation and exchange opportunities. It also serves as a resource mobilisation hub for the most remote grassroots organisations working at the epicentre of violent extremism.
Adan and Elman continue to leverage their extensive experience in peacebuilding during a protracted conflict to assist in the prevention of new and emerging conflicts across Africa. Altogether, Elman Peace works to end violent conflict, promote peace, cultivate leadership and empower marginalised communities to become decision-makers in the processes that ensure their wellbeing.