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Girls & Women

Refugee to Presidential Candidate: Meet Fadumo Dayib

Fadumo Dayib, a Somali refugee, didn’t learn to read until she was 14, yet today, she holds three master’s degrees, (one of which is from Harvard), and is working on a Ph.D. in women’s governmental participation and empowerment in post-conflict regions. Yep, she’s pretty much unstoppable.

And she’s not stopping in her journey to advance gender equality globally anytime soon — Dayib is currently running for the position of Somalia’s first female president.

She fled the country 26 years ago, yet has never lost her passion to bring “a dignified existence” to Somali people.

Now, she’s ready to take on a position no woman has ever held in a country where 68% of youth are unemployed, girls and women face greater obstacles to equal rights, education, and safety against sexual violence than men do.

What could compel anyone to run for president of such a conflicted country? She says it’s her home, and she wants to make it a better place for all Somali people.

Dayib sat on the sidelines watching “1.2 million people internally displaced within the country yearning to have a dignified existence,” she told NPR.

Dayib was thrown into the life of a refugee the minute she was born. Her mother gave birth to her in Kenya, but it wasn’t long before tension between neighboring countries caused her mother, father, and her to be arrested and deported back to Somalia. Her mother lost 11 children, between poor maternal healthcare in Somalia and Kenya, and warfare. Dayib’s mother also sold everything she owned before getting three of her surviving children (at the time) out of Somalia in 1990. Sadly, today Fadumo Dayib is her mother’s only living child.

Her family fled and sought refuge in Finland where Dayib voraciously learned how to read, and the value of education, even if it was after she turned 14.

“When I came to this country, they didn’t give up on me,” Dayib said to NPR.

She got married and became a mother, having four children in a country with the third-highest gender equality ranking in the world. She studied as a nurse practitioner, and went on to get her master’s degree in health sciences and public health.

Yet something in her life was still missing.

In 2005, Dayib felt a calling to help those suffering in Somalia. She left Finland for Puntland, Somalia, and spent time working with the United Nations setting up maternal health clinics in her homeland and later completed — yes another! — master’s degree in public administration from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Policy.

After returning to Somalia she felt at home.

“The first night I slept soundly. I felt I was at home. I was on a mattress, but that was the best thing I ever could have ever done in my life,” Dayib told the Harvard Gazette.

A decade later, Dayib still felt she had more to do for her country. The best way to do it? Run for president.

She’s faced death threats and has been asked if she would wish the same path for her children

In a brave response, filled with love for Somalia, her answer was yes.

“When the day comes and you have the capability to do so, you must fight for democracy. We must not let evil overcome goodness,” said Dayib.