Ilhan Omar, the public organizer and social activist, who made history in 2016 when she became the first Somali-American Muslim legislator in the United States is on a fight to end child marriages in her state of Minnesota.
Omar moved from Somali to the U.S. as a refugee at the age of 13. At just 34-years-old, Omar won a seat as a lawmaker in the Minnesota House of Assembly representing House District 60B.
She is a progressive and describes herself as an intersectional feminist, currently serving as the Director of Policy and Initiatives of the Women Organizing Women Network. A part of that fight is ending childhood marriages in her state.
The professor and author of “American Child Bride: A History of Minors and Marriage in the United States” by Nicholas Syrett says “child marriage has a long and vibrant history in the United States”.
He notes that “though some boys do marry, the vast majority of marrying minors are girls. This has been the pattern throughout U.S. history. Many brides (90%) who marry under the age of 18 marry older men, sometimes a decade older. Some politicians are worried that this can lead to abuses, including human trafficking.
“States are raising the age of consent to protect children from forced marriage.”
— Koshin Jimcali (@KoshinJimcali) May 30, 2018
In Minnesota, children can get married at the age of 16.
Also noteworthy, in MN my bill to increase the legal marriage age to 18 never received a hearing because some of the leaders were afraid of the backlash from ⛪ https://t.co/ZJqCxAGMUF
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) May 31, 2018
In Omar’s home country, Somalia, the legal age for marriage in the country is 18 for both males and females, and girls can get married at 16 with parental consent. But according to statistics by UNICEF in 2017, 8% of girls were married by the age of 15 and 45% by the age 18 in the country.
According to the organization, Girls Not Brides,
“Child marriage in Somalia is largely driven by cultural norms. At 98%, Somalia has one of the world’s highest rates of female genital cutting, illustrating the persistence of patriarchal norms around women’s sexuality.
In addition, al-Shabaab has promoted child marriage as part of the effort to impose its harsh version of Sharia. Human Rights Watch have reported an organised practice whereby al-Shabaab preaches marriage with fighters to girls still in school. There have also been reports of girls abducted and forced into marriage.”
Spectators are curious to see whether Omar’s work in this area in the U.S. will transfer to similar work in her home country.