Wednesday, 25 September 2019

A Woman of Firsts by Edna Adan Ismail

A Woman of Firsts by Edna Adan Ismail, with Wendy Holden
Published by HQ on the 8th August 2019.

One of my 2019 New Release Challenge reads

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Imprisonment. Mutilation. Persecution.

Edna Adan Ismail endured it all – for the women of Africa.

Edna saw first-hand how poor healthcare, lack of education and ancient superstitions had devastating effects on Somaliland’s people, especially its women. When she suffered the trauma of FGM herself as a young girl at the bidding of her mother, Edna’s determination was set.

The first midwife to practise in Somaliland, Edna became a formidable teacher and campaigner for women’s health. As her country was swept up in its bloody fight for independence, Edna rose to become its First Lady and first female cabinet minister.

She built her own hospital, brick by brick, training future generations in what has been hailed as one of the Horn of Africa’s finest university hospitals

This is Edna’s truly remarkable story.

I first heard of Edna Adan Ismail through reading Half The Sky although I admit I had forgotten why her name looked familiar until she gave that book a mention in A Woman Of Firsts. Edna is a truly amazing and inspirational woman who has used every opportunity open to her throughout her life, and forced opportunities to open up when none were forthcoming due to her gender or her Somaliland nationality. I was reminded of Dr Hawa Abdi's similar struggles in neighbouring Somalia. As a Somaliland woman, Edna spent much of her early life being exactly the opposite of what her very conservative society expected from its female population. I loved how she portrays this clash to readers especially as her encouragement to continue being her natural self came from a desire to emulate her father, a doctor, and his willingness to allow his daughter firstly to be educated and then to actually have a job.

A Woman Of Firsts is written in an engaging style so I was able to learn a lot about Somaliland since its independence from Britain (and our subsequent poor treatment of our former Protectorate) without feeling like I was studying a history book. I loved glimpses of different places such as Borama and Hargeisa. Edna's is a story of amazing changes with extreme highs and lows. Coming from an influential family and marrying into another seems to have caused as many doors to close as to open, yet I loved how Edna repeatedly picked herself and carried on fighting for her patients. This is truly a story of dedication to duty. Now in her eighties and still working at the hospital she was finally able to build, I am in awe of Edna's energy and the legacy she will leave, both within Somaliland and much further afield, of changing attitudes towards women's health and maternity care.
I highly recommend A Woman Of Firsts as a We Need New Stories read.

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Books by Edna Adan Ismail / Biography and memoir / Books from Somaliland


  1. What a powerful story, I'll be on the lookout for it.

  2. Sounds really heavy. Not for me. Great review though Stephanie.

    1. It's written in an engaging style so didn't feel too heavy!

  3. I love books that educate me and at the same not losing the book's ability to entertain. This definitely sounds like such a book.

    1. Exactly so! I would love to have Edna's drive and energy :-)

  4. Oh wow, Edna sounds like an amazing, strong woman who did what she believed was right even if it meant going against the grain. It sounds like she has had a lot of meaningful experiences in her life and like this book is written well to share them with us. I am going to have to look into reading this one myself as well.

    1. Hers is such an inspirational life. A true example of someone putting everything into achieving their goals