By Devon O’Reilly —

Abdifatah became a gender equality and women’s rights defender at a young age. In fact, he was first inspired by his mother to become a gender equality advocate; his mother had transcended norms by taking on both mother and father roles due to his father’s death when he was a boy.  

Since then, Abdifatah has been leading the way not only as an advocate but also as a promoter of men and boy’s engagement. He was the Country Coordinator at Strategic Initiative for Horn of Africa, where he worked to engage men and boys in ending violence against women (VAW) in Somalia. However, his biggest constraint and challenge was being a man working in an area seen by the majority of Somali men and women as a women’s area, issue, or concern. Somalia is a deeply patriarchal society, one that sees VAW as solely a women’s issue to be addressed solely by women’s organizations, and led solely by women.

Despite the odds, however, Abdifatah has continued to work as a women’s rights and gender equality activist. He persisted, “the whole concept was new actually to Somalia.” The concept – brought together at first 30 young men to have a conversation about VAW (now he brings together over 75 groups at a single time). He says that it took some time – six months for the first group – to even be able to discuss the topic. “It was all about changing behavior and attitude of men toward VAW. We can engage them as partners in preventing VAW rather than being perpetrators of violence.”

Abdifatah has also found it difficult personally with colleagues and friends. He remembers a friend who once said: “What kind of project are you working on? Why are you talking about this? Nonsense issues. You’re not a woman, you’re not supposed to talk about this, it’s only for women.” He was also harassed by security personnel on the street. His response was always the same. “I defend their rights, and I’m very proud doing that.”

But why did and does Abdifatah continue to promote men and boys’ engagement in the fight for gender equality? He says his work is not done. “VAW occurs in every family. In the Somalia context, within the family there’s VAW, there’s domestic violence, there’s everything, but people don’t know it.” His drive is the transformation of the men, young men, and boys he works with to see and understand that violence exists and that women, no one, deserves to be violated.

Today, Abdifatah serves as the Executive Director of Witness Somalia and is one of Women Thrive’s most active Alliance members. Abdifatah, individually, and Witness Somalia, as an Alliance member, has participated in numerous petitions, letters to U.S. government representatives, social media campaigns, surveys, and more. By taking part in Women Thrive’s advocacy campaigns and capacity building courses, like Raise Your Funds, Abdifatah has utilized the platform of our Alliance to give greater visibility and amplify the voice of Witness Somalia, the men and boys he works with to promote gender equality, and especially the women he advocates for.

Join us this Father’s Day in supporting men and boy’s engagement in the women’s empowerment and advocates like Abdifatah.