Somalia’s Hawa Aden Mohamed wins the 2012 Nansen Refugee Award


Somalia’s Hawa Aden Mohamed wins the 2012 Nansen Refugee Award, 19 Sep 2012

Embargo: 11:30 AM CET, 18 SEPTEMBER, 2012
Somalia’s Hawa Aden Mohamed wins the 2012 Nansen Refugee Award
GENEVA, 18 September, 2012 – The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) announced today in Geneva that this year’s Nansen Refugee Award goes to Hawa Aden Mohamed, the founder and director of the Galkayo Education Centre for Peace and Development (GECPD) in Puntland, north-eastern Somalia. The award is given to Hawa Aden Mohamed in recognition of her exceptional, tireless and inspiring humanitarian work for Somalia’s refugee and displaced girls and women, work performed under incredibly difficult and challenging circumstances in a country battered by decades of violence, conflict and human rights abuses.
In 1954, UNHCR established the Nansen Refugee Award to promote global interest in refugees and to keep alive the spirit of Fridtjof Nansen, the first High Commissioner for Refugees in the League of Nations period. To date, the Nansen Refugee Award Committee has awarded 68 Nansen Medals to individuals, groups or organizations.
This year’s laureate is a former refugee who chose to return to her war-torn homeland in 1995, where she launched an ambitious education programme to assist those uprooted by the nation’s persistent conflict and recurring droughts. In particular, her visionary work has transformed the lives of thousands of displaced women and girls, who are among the most vulnerable members of Somali society and in many cases are grappling with the trauma of marginalization, abuse and sexual violence, including rape.
“When Hawa Aden Mohamed rescues a displaced girl, a life is turned around,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres. “Today, we are saluting her for her work to save, nurture and educate hundreds of women and girls, many victims of the worst kind of violence.”
More than two decades of conflict have ripped Somali society apart, forcing more than 2 million Somalis to seek safety and shelter either elsewhere inside the country or beyond Somalia’s borders. This was exacerbated by last year's drought and ensuing famine, which uprooted an additional half million people.
Hawa Aden Mohamed, who has come to be known in Galkayo as “Mama” Hawa, has created spaces where displaced women and girls, victims of all sorts of abuse and violence, can find safety, opportunity and be protected and sheltered. Her work stems from a belief that education lies at the root of everything, especially for girls.

“I think not having education is like having a kind of disease,” said Mama Hawa. “Without education, you are unaware of so many things… Without education you do not exist much – physically yes, but mentally and emotionally, you do not exist.”
The centre she founded and continues to manage provides secondary education as well as vocational training, so that women and girls can make a living on their own, and themselves influence their future and their own role in Somali society.
“It's time for the culture to change,” she said. “We need to keep the good and let go of the bad. And the good is to empower the girl.”
Mama Hawa is also a vocal campaigner for women’s rights, particularly opposing female genital mutilation (FGM). Her sister died from an infection after she was circumcised at about the age of seven.
In addition to advocacy, Mama Hawa’s centre provides counselling for circumcised women and girls and survivors of gender-based violence. Every year, some 180 women benefit from these programmes and many lives are saved.
UNHCR Special Envoy Angelina Jolie congratulated the 2012 laureate; “Madam Hawa Aden Mohamed is a woman of courage. She has devoted her life to advancing the education and well-being of Somali displaced women and girls, providing them with the skills, knowledge and vision they need to create a better future for their families and their country. A former refugee herself, Madam Hawa demonstrates the strength that refugees bring to society. Despite more than two decades of conflict which has ripped apart Somali society, forcing more than 2 million Somalis to flee their homes, Madam Hawa has proven that, even in the most difficult circumstances, every child can and should have a chance to learn. She has changed the lives of so many, giving them the opportunity to become teachers and leaders – the very ones who will help to rebuild Somalia one day. Madam Hawa, courage and commitment serve as a beacon to all humanitarians striving to assist and protect refugees worldwide.”
"It is tremendously powerful for young girls in a conservative society to realise that there can be alternatives to the life that has been pre-ordained for them. By supporting them to go through secondary education, Mama Hawa empowers young girls to avoid early marriage and gives them time to mature, develop self-awareness and become agents of change in their own community," said UNHCR Somalia Representative Bruno Geddo.
The GECPD also provides vocational training in carpentry and welding to help keep displaced young boys off the streets and prevent them from falling into the clutches of criminal or armed groups in Somalia.
"Mama Hawa's initiatives to teach trades to Somali boys enable them to find their place in society without falling for the temptations of piracy and militancy. This gives them a future to look forward to as they now have the means to play a productive role in society," Geddo added.

On learning that she was to receive this year’s Nansen Refugee Award, Mama Hawa said, "l am humbled by the committee's decision to bestow upon me this great honour. Yet I do not consider it recognition of my personal efforts alone but also of my colleagues at GECPD, the international community that supports our work, and the local community. lt is for this reason that I am dedicating the same award to them."
Since its establishment in 1999, the GECPD with Mama Hawa at its helm has assisted more than 215,000 people – displaced, victims and survivors of violence – to recover and heal and restart their lives. Somalia remains one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. In addition to the millions of refugees displaced in surrounding countries, more than 1.3 million Somalis are internally displaced. This means that a third of Somalia's estimated 7.5 million population is forcibly displaced.

Notes to editors

For more information, or to set up a media interview, contact:
Melissa Fleming,, +41 22 739 7965
Adrian Edwards,, +41 22 739 8741
Andrej Mahecic,, +41 22 739 8657
Download the press kit:
Nansen Refugee Award web site:

Nansen Refugee Award ceremony
UNHCR, and its partner Norwegian Refugee Council (a non-governmental organization providing assistance, protection and durable solutions to refugees and internally displaced persons worldwide), will host the Nansen Refugee Award ceremony at the Bâtiment des Forces Motrices in Geneva on October 1st. The Nansen Refugee Award programme is supported by the Swiss Federal Council, the State Council of the Republic and canton of Geneva, the Administrative Council of the City of Geneva, the Norwegian Government and the IKEA Foundation.
Media wishing to attend the ceremony should contact Susannah Lovatt,, +41 22 739 8685, or Andrej Mahecic,, +41 22 739 8657

Participants and performers at the Nansen Refugee Award ceremony include:
• UNAIDS International Goodwill Ambassador Annie Lennox, OBE
• Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Leymah Gbowee
• UNHCR's longest-serving Goodwill Ambassador, Barbara Hendricks
• Swiss singer/songwriter Bastian Baker
• Euronews presenter, Isabelle Kumar – host

The Nansen Refugee Award
The Nansen Refugee Award was created in 1954 in honour of Fridtjof Nansen, Norwegian explorer, scientist and the first League of Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. It is given annually to an individual or organization for outstanding work on behalf of refugees. The Nansen Refugee Award consists of a commemorative medal and a US$100,000 monetary prize donated by the governments of Switzerland and Norway. The 2012 winner has decided to contribute these funds toward projects which benefit refugee and displaced women and girls.
More than 65 individuals, groups or organizations have won the award since the prize was inaugurated. Last year the Nansen Refugee Award was given to the Society for Humanitarian Solidarity (SHS) of Yemen and recognized the 290 staff of SHS and its founder, Nasser Salim Ali Al-Hamairy, for their dedicated service to providing life-saving assistance to thousands of refugees and migrants who arrive on the shores of Yemen every year after crossing the Gulf of Aden by boat.

Messages of support
UNHCR Honorary Lifetime Goodwill Ambassador Barbara Hendricks
"Somalia has been battered by decades of violence, conflict and human rights abuses, but visiting Somali refugees in Ethiopia I was struck by their resilience and dignity. This year’s Nansen Refugee Award laureate – Hawa Aden Mohamed – is a true heroine who despite the difficult and challenging circumstances has touched the lives of thousands of women and girls. She has risked her life to restore the lives of others, many of whom have been traumatized by sexual violence, and has worked hard to improve women’s rights in Somalia. I send her my heartfelt congratulations on winning this year's award."
UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Jesús Vázquez
“Two decades of conflict have forced more than 2 million Somalis to leave their homes.
In trying to escape the violence, many are confronted with other perils – Including torture, rape or abduction. Hawa Aden Mohamed has worked tirelessly on behalf of these people, notably Somali women and girls who have been denied the opportunity to have an education, means to subsist and dignity.

She is a human rights activist, an educator in the truest sense of the word, and a worthy winner of the Nansen Refugee Award. I send her my admiration, my affection, and heartfelt congratulations.”

UNHCR Honorary Patron Yao Chen
“May I extend my congratulations to Madam Hawa Aden Mohamed, the winner of the 2012 Nansen Refugee Award.
Madam Hawa Aden Mohamed has worked tirelessly on behalf of Somali women and youth who have been displaced by years of conflict and abuse. They have been denied the opportunity to education, to livelihoods. Many have suffered sexual violence.
She has advocated for their rights, challenged harmful practices, and empowered them through education and training.
Her courageous work truly deserves the recognition this prestigious award bestows.”

Swiss singer / songwriter Bastian Baker
“My congratulations go to Mama Hawa for winning the 2012 Nansen Refugee Award! She has given hope to thousands of people in Somalia and deserves to be acknowledged for her life’s work. It is my privilege to be able to perform and congratulate Mama Hawa in person at the Nansen Refugee Award ceremony on October 1 in Geneva.”

Facts and figures
• It is estimated that there are 1 million Somali refugees, and an estimated 1.3 million internally displaced people (IDPs) inside Somalia.
• Since opening in 1999, the Galkayo Education Centre for Peace and Development (GECPD) in Puntland, north-eastern Somalia, has assisted more than 215,000 people. The centre has provided education to 35,000 girls and women; skills training to 1,600 girls and boys; emergency assistance and non-food items (NFIs) to over 6,000 households (36,000 people) and economic empowerment and cash support to over 700 households (4,200 people). The centre has also distributed sanitary kits to more than 140,000 women and girls.
• With a primary school age population (6-13 years) estimated at 1.7 million, the Gross Enrolment Rate (GER) is amongst the lowest in the world at 31% throughout Somalia (37% for boys and 22% for girls). In central and southern Somalia, the gross enrolment rate stands at only 22%. GER in refugee camps is 41 % (44% boys and 35% girls).

• GECPD has increased girls’ enrolment in northeast Somalia. According to the Millennium Development Goals Progress Report 2010 gross enrolments in primary education in Puntland increased steadily from 12% in 1999 to 36% in 2005/6. The majority of Puntland regions have the highest proportion of female pupils in Somalia, which reached 40.2% in 2006. (page 22)
• A 2011 study by TrustLaw found that Somalia was the fifth worst place in the world to be a woman. Among the factors cited were high maternal mortality, female genital mutilation, rape, lack of health care and economic opportunities, and poor access to education.
• A recent study by the World Health Organization and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) found that 98% of women in Somalia had undergone female genital mutilation / cutting. (page 122)