Edna Adan as featured on the Malala Blog


Edna Adan Ismail

Edna Adan at 17 years old. Photo Credit: ednahospital.org

Every Wednesday, Malala Fund is profiling strong, passionate and inspiring women who are “crushing it” by being an incredible role model for girls everywhere. By Hannah Orenstein, digital coordinator, Malala FundMeet Edna Adan Ismail. She was the first girl from her home country, Somaliland, to attend school in Britain, the first qualified nurse-midwife in her country, the first Somali woman to learn how to drive, and the first lady when she married Somaliland’s prime minister, Ibrahim Egal. So it makes perfect sense that we’re kicking off our Woman Crush Wednesday series with Edna’s story.

Why is she awesome?

Throughout her life, Edna has improved the lives of countless girls, women and Africans. After serving as a nurse in her home country, she was recruited by the World Health Organization and UNICEF to help educate communities about women’s health and train midwives to reduce the maternal mortality rate. She has changed perceptions of women’s health — speaking out against female genital mutilation at a time when it was unpopular to do so.

When she retired, she used her personal resources to open the first maternity hospital in Somaliland in 2002, an enormous feat considering specialized hospitals and doctors aren’t the norm in Africa. Since opening, the Edna Adan University Teaching Hospital has helped reduce maternal mortality rates in Somaliland by 25%.

Throughout her life, Edna has been honored for her lifelong contribution to humanitarian work. She’s given a TED Talk, met with presidents, earned honorary doctorates, and has been featured in the PBS documentary Half the Sky.

What can we learn from her?

Edna is a pioneer in the truest sense — she blazed a pathway for women in a world when opportunities were limited. And she hasn’t stopped fighting. Here are three things from her story you can take away:

1. Know the power of 1.

The backbone of her work is rooted in education and she knows the immeasurable value of how teaching one individual can spread throughout her community. “I cannot image where I would have been if I had not had access to education, the training that has helped me to help others,” Edna said in her 2012 TED Talk.

Be inspired by Edna’s TED Talk. Watch it here.

2. Put education first.

She has seen the transformative effect education can have on a woman and her community. It empowers women and gives them the confidence to advise other women. Edna says, “Education is one of the strongest gifts we can give to a human being, and in particular, a human in Africa.”


3. Speak out — even if it’s unpopular to do so.

We admire Edna for her ambition, her boldness, and her passion. She spoke out against female genital mutilation, even it it wasn’t so popular to do so. We are so inspired by her enduring dedication to erase stigmas that have plagued women’s health and her efforts reduce maternal mortality in Africa.


Thank you to SAYFTY, an Indian organization dedicated to helping women protect themselves against violence, for sharing Edna’s story with us.

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