Ifrah Ahmed is a Somali anti-FGM campaigner and social activist. She was hugely influential in the passing of anti-FGM legislation in Ireland and is the founder of the United Youth of Ireland and the Ifrah Foundation.
Ahmed was born in Mogadishu, Somalia. At the age of 8 she underwent Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), along with a number of other girls, one of which died from blood loss. At the age of 17, Ahmed fled from the Somali civil war and emigrated to Ireland. With the help of a translator, Ahmed was asked about her injuries during a medical examination and the FGM she had undergone was explained to her for the first time. After this experience, she spoke to other asylum seekers who had similar experiences – some of which horrified her as “One of the girls told us that hers was done with a piece of broken glass.” Ahmed realised that “it was very difficult to communicate with doctors or nurses. Sometimes nobody can understand the pain you feel inside of you,” she explained and that “People did not understand what FGM victims want. I used to get infections or get sick when I had my period and I went to doctors and I wanted to tell the doctor, but I could never speak. I’m so lucky that I can help a lot of women to go to the doctor.”
Ahmed was horrified when she learnt of the scale of the problem of FGM – the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates indicate between 100 million and 140 million girls and women alive today have experienced some form of the practice while millions of girls remain at risk of genital mutilation annually. She became a campaigner for change and has worked with UNICEF, Amnesty International, Irish Refugee Council, Caidre, The Africa Centre, Spirasi, Somali Community in Ireland, and Integration of African Children in Ireland.
Ahmed has campaigned for HIV/AIDs awareness, anti-racism initiatives, support for international students as well as fighting against FGM. Ahmed worked to educate Irish medical professionals on FGM so that asylum seekers like her are now able to access the help and support they need. She has also worked in local communities to deliver the message that “FGM has nothing to do with culture or religion. It is simply a gross violation of girls’ rights that should be rooted out completely.”
In 2010, Ahmed founded the United Youth of Ireland non-governmental organisation, initially to provide support to 15 – 25 year olds from Africa and Eastern Europe. The organisation helps to provide opportunities and volunteers to help within communities, as well as helping young people from migrant communities in artistic, creative and business endeavours. That same year, Ahmed organised her first conference and fashion show in Dublin to raise awareness of FGM, targeting both the Irish public and policy makers. She became an Ambassador for Europe on youth and women’s rights, and in 2012, Ahmed’s campaigning led to the Irish government formally making FGM illegal. This means that no girl can be taken to another country to undergo FGM, and increased the amount of training provided to hospital staff on FGM related issues.
In addition to her activism in Ireland, Ahmed has also been involved in fighting to improve conditions in Somalia. In 2009, she was involved with an initiative that saw UNICEF creating school and water projects in Hargeisa, Somaliland. In 2011, she created a fund raising video endorsed by UNICEF for which all proceeds were donated to the Somali famine relief. From 2014 to 2015, Ahmed returned to Somalia after being invited by the President of Somalia, H.E. Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, after interviewing him during the New Deal conference on Somalia.
Ahmed worked with the former minister of women Khadijah Mohamed Dirrie with the Ministry of Women and Human Rights, and travelled to Internally Displaced Persons camps to educate families to educate entire families on the practice of FGM and why it should not continue, despite a huge risk to her own personal safety. Ahmed also helped to draft the national policy against FGM, created case studies on sexual violence which are now used by the UN and worked on the development of child rights programs. Ahmed pioneered the Dear Daughter campaign to help mothers pledge to promise their daughters a future free of FGM.
In 2016, it was announced that Ahmed would become an adviser to Somalia’s prime minister on gender issues. She will be responsible for drawing up a national FGM eradication programme with the help of her Ifrah Foundation, which is fighting for the worldwide eradication of FGM. The campaign will focus on education and empowerment. Ahmed has received the Women4Africa Humanitarian of the Year award for her commitment to improving the lives of women in Somalia, despite the fact that “Many people have told [her] not to talk about Women’s rights because they believe that Somali women do not need human rights.” Ahmed wants to see “Somalia become a place where everyone has equal opportunities. I want to see the Somalia where civilians get justice. I want to see the Somalia where women are respected and given chances to make a change.”