KUALA LUMPUR, May 19 – Dr Edna Adan Ismail, a nurse-midwife, hospital founder, and health care advocate who has worked courageously to change cultural, religious, and medical norms surrounding women’s health in East Africa and improve the lives of women and girls in the region and beyond, was recently announced as the winner of the 2023 Templeton Prize.
She received this year’s award in recognition of her extraordinary efforts to harness the power of the sciences to affirm the dignity of women and help them to flourish physically and spiritually.
Her many achievements include the founding of the Edna Adan University and Edna Adan Hospital, which has significantly reduced maternal mortality in Somaliland, and her tireless campaign to end female genital mutilation (FGM) around the world.
“We are delighted to honour Edna Adan Ismail, a woman who has used the teachings of her faith, the influence of her family, and her education in science to improve the health and opportunities of some of the world’s most vulnerable women and girls,” said Heather Templeton Dill, president of the John Templeton Foundation.
“Driven by a passionate belief in women’s innate dignity and divine-given potential, she has enacted a transformation of female health in her native land. Drawing on the doctrines of the Muslim faith, she has employed her positions of authority to argue passionately that, despite what some have believed, female circumcision is against the teachings of Islam, and deeply harmful to women.”
The Templeton Prize, valued at £1.1 million (RM5.64 million), is one of the world’s largest annual individual awards. Established by the late global investor and philanthropist Sir John Templeton, it is given to honour those who harness the power of the sciences to explore the deepest questions of the universe and humankind’s place and purpose within it.
“I feel blessed and honoured to receive this award, which will enable me to make a major contribution to the U.S.-based Friends of Edna Maternity Hospital,” said Edna, 85.
“These funds will be used to support the hospital in carrying out its essential work, such as obtaining medical equipment, hiring expert educators, enabling expansion to serve more patients, and to continue training the next generation of health care workers that East Africa so desperately needs.”
Edna is an outspoken critic of female genital mutilation (FGM), a painful, disfiguring, and life-threatening practice performed in some non-Muslim and Muslim societies, including her own.
When she was eight, her mother subjected Edna to FGM without her father’s knowledge. His outraged reaction “planted the seeds of my sense of injustice, and started the embryo that led me much later to act,” she said in an interview with the Berkley Center at Georgetown University.
As a practising midwife early in her career, she was confronted with the grievous complications during childbirth from the scarring.
After visiting a 1976 conference in Sudan at which participants from Muslim countries that also practiced FGM spoke openly about its effects, she was inspired to take up the issue at home.
Education is more important than legislation in opposing FGM, said Edna, because passing a law that no one intends to obey simply forces the practice underground.
Edna has encouraged women to come forward, men to stand up for them, cultural discussions to be had at every level, and the decoupling of FGM from faithful Islamic practice.
“Islam does not accept, Islam forbids female circumcision. It is a moral issue, a moral obligation. It is a responsibility. God has shown me this,” said Edna in the biographical film A Beacon of Hope for Women’s Health & Dignity, produced in honour of the Templeton Prize.
“Every day I’m reliving and remembering, I’m recalling that pain that happened to me when I was seven or eight years old. The wounds may heal but the pain never leaves you.”