Ilhan Omar became America’s first Somali-American Muslim woman Legislator
Elham Asaad Buaras
Although Hillary Clinton failed to make history in the US as the country’s first female President on November 8, one former female refugee still made history.
Ilhan Omar became America’s first Somali-American Muslim woman Legislator after she was successfully elected as Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (DFL) Legislator in the Minnesota House of Representatives. DFL is a social liberal political party in the US state of Minnesota. It is affiliated with the United States Democratic Party.
The 34-year-old moved to the US at the age of 12, after living for four years in a Kenyan refugee camp following her escape from the Somali civil war.
As well as her political duties, the mother of three is also Director of Policy at Women Organising Women Network – a group that aims to empower all women, particularly first and second generation immigrants, to become engaged citizens and community leaders.
House Minority Leader, Paul Thissen, said Omar’s victory “says something important about the future of Minnesota, and what it means to be a Minnesotan.”
Omar said she believed her representation could change how people see the political process. “For me, this is my country, this is for my future, for my children’s future and for my grandchildren’s future to make our democracy more vibrant, more inclusive, more accessible and transparent which is going to be useful for all of us,” she said.
Omar began her career in 2006 as a Community Nutrition Educator with the University of Minnesota. In 2012, she served as a Campaign Manager for Kari Dzeidzik’s bid for a legislative seat in the Minnesota State Senate.
Between 2012 and 2013, Omar was a Child Nutrition Outreach Coordinator with the Minnesota Department of Education. She later worked as a Campaign Manager for Andrew Johnson, as he ran for a municipal seat in Minneapolis’ Ward 12 in 2013.
Following Johnson’s election to the Minneapolis City Council, Omar served as the Senior Policy Aide in his office from 2013 to 2015.
As of September 2015, she is the Director of Policy & Initiatives of the Women Organising Women Network. The association advocates for women from East Africa to take on civic and political leadership roles.
Omar’s volunteer experience and areas of interest include politics, education, civil rights and social action, poverty alleviation, human rights, environmental issues, animal welfare, and economic empowerment.
Her chief opponent in the general election was Republican nominee Abdimalik Askar. However, in August, Askar also of Somali decent, announced his withdrawal from the campaign due to the death of his father.
On August 9, Omar defeated Phyllis Kahn and Mohamud Noor in the DFL primary to become the nominee for the Minnesota House election for district 60B.
She supports a $15 per hour minimum wage. With regard to scholastic affordability, she advocates free tuition for students with a family income below $125,000 as well as greater accessibility to student loan forgiveness programs.