Safia y Abdi Haase
International Inner Wheel is proud of having Safia Y Abdi Haase among us. When Safia became a member of the IWC of Fredriksten, District 31, Norway last year, the members nationwide knew more about her than she knew about them. Because when Safia’s broad smile and happy face appeared on TV, people listened. While she talked her face became solemn, because her message was grave and of utmost importance: END FGM! Female Genital Mutilation is the right word for what was commonly known as circumcision. Circumcision is a too weak word for the mutilation of the female genital parts that actually takes place.
Who is this woman who has won the hearts of so many?
Safia came as a refugee from Somalia with her 3 daughters and no education in 1992 and by 1998 she had already appeared on TV, After settling in Harstad up North, she started on her education from scratch. She could speak English, but not write it. She learnt Norwegian, completed secondary school, and became a qualified, registered nurse. Later she learnt project management and took a Master’s degree in International Welfare and Health Policy.
Since 2005 she has been involved in health-related work within the Amathea Foundation This foundation works among immigrant women both in Norway and in Africa and Asia. Safia has been particularly involved in female and reproductive health and with her main focus on FGM among Somali women and girls, but also with other groups of women affected with the same problems. She is also engaged outside the Amathea platform with more personal groups, especially one in Kenya.
It all started with a phone call from Harstad Hospital on 14 April 1993.
A young Somali woman was about to give birth to her first child, Safia was summoned to interpret. Neither the doctor, the midwife, nor the public health officer knew the situation of the patient. She had been infubilated with a very little opening in her vulva, the worst kind of FGM. (An infubilated woman has to be opened by her husband by sexual intercourse and penetrated daily so as to keep the vulva open. Some men use their knife for this. Some men send their wife to a traditional midwife to do this secretly. Nowadays most women are opened in a hospital.)There was only a small hole where the head of the baby should appear. It was so narrow that the midwife while trying to palpate her, couldn’t put her finger in. There was panic in the hospital. A gynaecologist was sent for, but the birth had already started, the baby wasn’t breathing from lack of air when coming out, compressions were performed and then the baby was transported by emergency flight to the University Hospital in Tromsø. The baby was alive but severely brain damaged.
As Safia says herself, «I decided to open my mouth», and since then she has not kept quiet! She has been involved in numerous tasks. Among them helping the Norwegian Government framing a policy against FGM since 2000, and she is commonly known as an ambassador in the struggle against all sorts of violence towards the female body. She is proud of being an activist for the Rights of Women and against violence against women, normally divided into four areas:
1 Women in War and Conflict, 2 Domestic Violence, 3 Trafficking, and 4 FGM
She is also a member of a nationally appointed group working against racism and for understanding between cultures. I addition she was among the initiative takers to have a special day devoted to the awareness of FGM since 2009.
Safia has been awarded several prizes and honorary citizenships for her work and engagement, being a role model and for her publications. The list is too long to mention here; the highest ranking award was given her by the King of Norway that made Safia, Knight of St. Olav’s Order, First Class for her commitment for integration, cultural understanding and equality in the increasingly multicultural Norwegian society on 3 October 2014.
And Safia is still active, and more than that, for women in need.
By Board Director Sissel Høihjelle Michelsen