Cover Image: A Woman of Firsts

A Woman of Firsts

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Member Reviews

This is an amazing memoir. A book that everyone should read.

Edna is an inspirational person. She was born into a culture where women did not have a voice.
She stood up for all women and she campaigned on female genital mutilation. The description in the book of FGM made me feel physically sick. I cannot begin to imagine the pain and horror that these women go through.

This is a book of sadness and joy. It is filled with hope. She has changed so many women’s lives and will continue to do so.
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Wow! What an amazing woman and what an incredible life journey!

The book is so humble and so engaging, I felt each heartbreak and setback. I was abhorred by the genital mutilation and to be reminded that it's still in practice to this day. I was enraged at her imprisonment and that of her husband Egal. 

Sadly, I was one of the many people completely ignorant about Somaliland and its history. What a journey to be taken on, learning about it all through the first hand experiences of the country's most pioneering woman. 

What an inspiring and empowering book!
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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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WOW! This book is definitely one of those gems that is underrated. I was gripped from page 1 and with a book starting with 'I need you to shoot a baby!' it's easy to see why. Edna Adan Ismail has lived a thousand lives in one. After reading her memoir I honestly don't think she has ever had one normal, mundane day in her life. What this incredible lady has suffered and fought through is unbelievable. From Civil War, Female Genital Mutilation, the Hargeisa Holocaust and more you will repeatedly learn how brave and altruistic Edna is. How someone can continue to see the good in people and desire to help them after all that she has been through is amazing.
I'll admit, when I was working as a Nurse I was one of those that got on with the job but whilst complaining that we were short staffed, didn't have the best equipment, hadn't had the chance to go to the toilet for the past 5 hours.... but to read memoirs such as this, where a Nurse is having to beg for oxygen to keep a preemie alive, where she is buying medical supplies with her own money, is incredibly humbling and makes me feel so very thankful for the resources our NHS does have. 
I highly recommend this book to everyone. It truly is one of those books that opens the mind, exposes us to other cultures, and holds a mirror up to atrocities people live through with a raw honesty that is heartbreaking. 

** This review will also appear on Goodreads, Amazon and Instagram later today**
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This is the remarkable, painful, inspiring, shocking, amazing, unbelieveable, heart-wrenching & yet heart-warming true story of  Edna Adan Ismail.

"Don’t ever underestimate the capacity of a human being who is determined to do something" - Edna Adan Ismail

Born in 1937 in Somaliland, at a time when girls were not educated and were expected to grow up to become good wives, Edna defied all expectations & forged her own path through life. Her father, an emminent doctor, supported her desire to learn, and was her inspiration throughout her life. She saw how he gave so much of himself to help others & she wanted to help him & work alongside him. Her father managed to break free of some Somaliland traditions to ensure his daughter received an education and she won a prestigious scholarship to train as a nurse in the UK, where she experienced a freedom that was new to her & the delights of 1950's London. She could have stayed in the UK but was determined to return home to Somaliland with a dream to work alongside her father (though that never happened). She defied tradition and convention to become the first fully trained nurse-midwife in Somaliland, a campaigner for women’s health, and even her country's First Lady and first female cabinet minister. 
She is perhaps best known for bringing FGM to the attention of the world & changing attitudes towards the barbaric practice - one she endured herself & which left both physical & mental scars throughout her life. 

At the hospital that bears her name, in her home city of Hargeisa, she has established a programme to train the next generation of midwives, nurses, pharmacists, anaesthetists and other healthcare professionals, and to offer free or very low cost treatment to the region's poorest people 

Edna's story is totally inspirational, and her legacy will last long after her death - she is 82 years old & still actively working to improve the lives of her community, and women across the world.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book free from NetGalley. All opinions are my own.
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