Edna Adan: My Personal Hero

Posted on June 13, 2012, by Diane Lane for Half the Sky Movement

When I first arrived in Somaliland in April 2011, I was immediately made aware of the societal norms and cultural value system distinctly based on gender. I saw that the male perspective is the only one acknowledged regarding sexuality; women’s reproductive rights are nonexistent. Women have no voice in their experience of their bodies: it is culturally-dictated and male-dictated. Maternal health is a matter of chance and luck yet a maximum abundance of children is inherently expected and valued above the women’s health and survival.

Despite the immense adversity of circumstances I witnessed, I was inspired by the great work I saw Edna Adan doing. Edna became a personal hero of mine – even from just reading her chapter in the book Half The Sky. She exemplifies being a true “nurse,” as well as being an ambassador of her nation’s women. Edna is a genuine inspiration and has earned every bit of respect and esteem she has won through her efforts in her patriarchal society. Edna personally suffered the harm and regret of FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) at the tender age of seven, yet she is a champion of wiser methods which accommodate Somaliland customs, while progressing away from the countless fistulas and other miseries women, children and entire families suffer unnecessarily in reproduction. She has trained young women from all over her country to be professional midwives to service the hard-to-reach majority of people there. Also, she brings people together from all over the world to finance emergency help for those who otherwise have no hope of proper medical attention.

I now see clearly the interconnectedness between access to education and opportunity for women and the prevention of maternal mortality. When a mother dies, all her children are orphaned, and the entire community suffers the burden of her void – emotionally, physically and spiritually.

These issues need not be overwhelming. There are so many ways to empower women – providing education and the right to vote and the right to participate in sustainable local commerce. That aids them in many ways in contributing to the family, and exponentially within their community – thereby increasing their worth.

Since coming back to the U.S., I’ve realized that needless suffering and death can be avoided if women are invested in and valued for more than their reproduction. And I am guilty of taking my human rights and control over my own body for granted. This journey galvanized my belief in the need for equality in women’s representation in governmental policy around the world.

Diane Lane and edna Adan
Diane Lane and Edna Adan on location with Half the Sky (courtesy Nicholas Kristof)

I am so grateful for my experiences in Somaliland. I witnessed how the human condition can persevere in unforgiving drought and the deprivation of poverty. Thanks to Ms. Adan I grew understanding and compassion for cultures different from my own. My visit with the kind people I met there increased my willingness to give voice to usually ignored life-and-death issues that are shockingly preventable.

Edna gives me hope with her power of example. She once told me the fable of the Tortoise who without “sticking his neck out, gets nowhere.” And like her native desert survivor, the Tortoise, Edna Adan is a marvel of accomplishment. May her work and legacy continue to flourish through all her students.