MINNEAPOLIS – Ilhan Omar, the first Somali-American Muslim woman to be elected legislator has been featured on the cover of Time magazine, as one of 46 influential women to break barriers.
“My family called me the “why kid” growing up. I always needed to know why something is happening, why I had to do something, why whatever,” she said in her Time essay.
“I still am that way. I constantly question myself, I question those around me, I question policy and reasoning behind everything,” she told the magazine in an interview that recalled her days in Somalia till date.
The particular edition titled “FIRSTS: WOMEN WHO ARE CHANGING THE WORLD” celebrates a total of 46 women.
The magazine wrote about her: “Ilhan Omar is the first Somali-American Muslim person to become a legislator.”
In the Sept. 18 issue, that hits newsstands Friday, Omar tells about her life in Somalia and a Kenya refugee camp.
“As someone who grew up never really having to feel less than, it’s a hard reality to wake up to when you’re 12,” she said.
“I had to figure out what it meant to be a bridge builder — what it meant to forge relationships that really never existed becomes the back story to how I ended up where I am.”
In the States, gender and even her looks became an issue, Omar said.
“People were excited to vote for me because I was pretty,” she said.
“To the Muslim and Somali communities, my gender was a problem because politics is supposed to be a man’s role,” she wrote. “Then there was the typical stuff that women candidates deal with — as a mother, how irresponsible I must be to want to run and devote as much time out of the home. No one ever asks the male candidates … how they expect to balance family life.”
Omar pushed the negative things aside. “I kept thinking, regardless of whether we win or lose, this will shift the narrative about what is possible,” she said.
She is listed among other illustrious female achievers like Melinda Gates – wife of Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey – African American media mogul, tennis queen Serena Williams, the UN envoy to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, and former first lady and secretary of state of the US, Hillary Clinton.
Omar became the nation’s first Somali-American lawmaker after being elected last November 2016 as a state representative from Minneapolis.
The 33-year-old Omar was born in Somalia before she fled to the US to escape civil war.
She stayed for four years in a Kenyan refugee camp before ultimately moving to the Somali-American neighborhood of Cedar-Riverside, where she has lived for nearly two decades and is currently director of policy initiatives at Women Organizing Women.