Vital Voices Partners with Glamour Women of the Year Fund


Dr. Hawa Abdi & Her Daughters: The Saints of Somalia

By Eliza Griswold

For 20 years, Glamour magazine has honored extraordinary women as part of its Women of the Year event. In 2010, they named Dr. Hawa Abdi and her daughters among the honorees. Vital Voices is proud to partner with Glamour to help support Dr. Abdi's cause through their Women of the Year Fund initiative.

On a still, hot morning last May, hundreds of Islamists militants invaded the massive displaced-persons camp that Dr. Hawa Abdi runs near Mogadishu, Somalia. They surrounded the 63-year-old ob-gyn's office, holding her hostage and taking control of the camp. "Women can't do things like this," they threatened.

Dr. Abdi, who is equal parts Mother Teresa and Rambo, was unfazed. Every day in Somalia brings new violence as bands of rebels rove ungoverned. Today Somalia remains what the U.N. calls one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. On that morning in May, Dr. Abdi challenged her captors: "What have you done for society?" The thugs stayed a week, leaving only after the U.N. and others advocated on her behalf. Dr. Abdi then, of course, got back to work.

Her lifesaving efforts started in 1983, when she opened a one-room clinic on her family farm. As the government collapsed, refugees flocked to her, seeking food and care. Today she runs a camp housing approximately 90,000 people, mostly women and children because, as she says, "the men are dead, fighting, or have left Somalia to find work." While Dr. Abdi has gotten some help, many charities refuse to enter Somalia. "It's the most dangerous country," says Kati Marton, a board member of Human Rights Watch. "Dr. Abdi is just about the only one doing anything." Her greatest support: two of her daughters, Deqo, 35, and Amina, 30, also doctors, who often work with her. Despite the bleak conditions, Dr. Abdi sees a glimmer of hope. "Women can build stability," she says. "We can make peace."


By supporting Dr. Abdi’s cause, you’ll be helping to restore the hospital’s pediatric unit, which was destroyed in May attacks by Islamist militants, provide lifesaving medical and nutritional treatment for women and children, and support literacy and leadership training at the camp’s Women’s Education Center. Donate now.

Read more about Glamour's Women of the Year.

Read Eliza Griswold's posts in The Daily Beast, "The Safest Place in Somalia" and "Somalia's Mother Theresa Fights Famine."

Read more about Dr. Abdi in Eliza Griswold's book, The Tenth Parallel.