Somali-American supermodel, beauty industry entrepreneur, fashion designer and activist Iman (66) made news in 2019 when she became the first-ever Global Advocate for CARE International. “I am the face of a refugee”, Iman said as she stepped into the position. What inspired the muse of noted designers such as Giannia Versace and Calvin Klein to join CARE? Let’s find out.

CARE International is a global humanitarian agency that delivers immediate relief and long-term support to the most vulnerable members of society. CARE has reached out to at-risk people in 104 countries over the globe, a number that rapidly keeps expanding. By implementing over a thousand poverty-alleviation, development and humanitarian aid projects, CARE has been able to touch the lives of 92.3 million people directly, as well as 433.4 million people indirectly through their advocacy and constant support.


How did Iman become a refugee?

Iman was born Zara Mohamed Abdulmajid in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia. Her father was a diplomat and Somali ambassador to Saudi Arabia while her mother was a gynaecologist. Being born in a family of privileges, Iman and her four siblings were fortunate to have received good education in their formative years. The siblings were studying in Egypt when her home country Somalia was experiencing unrest. In order to keep his family safe and together, the family moved back to Somalia. Explaining about her life in a politically turbulent situation, Iman shared in an interview, “I became a refugee in 1972, when there was a coup. My father, an ambassador, was in danger, so we decided to leave the country—to leave just with the clothes on our back. We ended up in Kenya. So here I was, on my own, never worked in my life outside of my family home. And then I met the angels that are NGOs. They’re the ones who are really on the ground helping refugees navigate through their new countries. They asked me what I could do, and I spoke three languages, so they found me a job as a translator. They put me through Nairobi University, and helped me find a place to live.”

Standing against a diamond conglomerate

Iman eventually pursued modelling, moving to the United States where she became a Supermodel and launched Iman Cosmetics. Despite her busy life, Iman ensured that she contributed regularly in refugee welfare and issues affecting them. For instance, she works with Enough Project – that aims at ending genocides in Africa’s deadliest conflict zones including Somalia. Iman donates to their projects and advocates the end of global trade in conflict minerals that exploit African refugees.

But Iman made news worldwide through her strong stand against conflict minerals when she ended her contract with diamond conglomerate De Beers and participated in the public campaign against blood diamonds (conflict diamonds).

CARE’s work inspires Iman

CARE’s cause is one that is really close to Iman’s heart, being a former refugee herself. Iman has been quite vocal about the struggles of refugees and women throughout her career and has been absolutely wonderful in her role with CARE International.

CARE addresses the unequal power relations within society, and the disparity of opportunities, income and security between men and women.


A legacy of empowering women and girls

In many regions in the world, women are denied even the most basic human rights and they have no autonomy over their choices and their bodies. While helping with disaster management, CARE realised that women get a chance to make their voices heard while dealing with the aftermath of a calamity. In both Yemen and Syria, CARE observed that women got more decision-making power after being hit by devastating situations, which allowed women to become more independent.

CARE has a Gender Marker tool among their resources which allows them to evaluate the level and capacity of humanitarian aid required by each event, from the planning stage to the delivery of a response.

The Gender Marker rates emergency projects from 0-4 along CARE’s gender continuum, a scale ranging from ‘gender-harmful’ to ‘gender-transformative’, with the latter meaning that CARE’s response has helped challenge the norms and structures that prevent women from attaining gender equality. CARE aims to continue its ‘gender-transformative’ approach.

As for Iman, she continues to travel to African conflict zones as part of her job role at CARE and network with NGOs to help refugees, especially women and girls.

To know more about African conflict zones and contribute, do visit Enough Project. To contribute towards helping women and girls thrive amid war-torn states, do visit CARE International.

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