Meet Habiba Ali, the Somali woman aiming to shatter Finland’s minority glass ceiling

Despite the rising uncertainty over the status of migrants in many European countries, a young Somali-born woman is hoping to break through to Finland’s national politics in April’s parliamentary elections.

Habiba Ali, a Social Democrat councilor from Finland’s second largest city Espoo, has lived in that country since 1991 when her family moved there fleeing violence back home.

In addition to being an Espoo city councilor, Ms. Ali also works for Finn Church Aid‘s ‘Reach Out’ project which promotes societal cohesion, cooperation, dialogue and trust-building between communities, civil society and authorities.

“They see this immigrant background woman wearing the hijab. I’m an immigrant, I’m black, I’m Muslim, and I’m a woman. I can be all those things!” she recently told news website News Now Finland.

Ali sees the rising interest in politics from Finns with minority backgrounds, and thinks it’s a reflection of the way society has been dealing with immigrant issues in recent years.

“This year there are so many minority candidates running for elections, especially these parliamentary elections. And I think it’s because of the times we are living. People are waking up. They are fed up. There is a lot of polarization going on, and we are living in difficult time” she explains.

Although Habiba Ali is sadly no stranger to getting nasty emails or comments on social media, she says that on the campaign trail it’s more polite. Anyone who disagrees with her, or her politics, is unlikely even to come and take a flyer at the stall.

But for those who do want to engage in conversation, she’s there to try and change some of their pre-conceived ideas.

Common arguments are that immigrants are taking more than their fair share of resources in Finland. Or that the health care is bad because of immigrants. Or that elderly care is in disarray because resources are being spent on asylum seekers instead.

“I tell them, we can take care of everyone! We don’t have to choose between young people, or old people, or asylum seekers” says Ali.

“The parliament is not representing the people of Finland if it is only representing the white people. It’s really good for our youth to have role models, and I am worried the way Finland is going if we don’t have any more immigrant background people after the election. It is sending a message that Finland is not ready” she says.

“It’s a strong message we are giving. We are different kinds of people, but we are all Finns”.

In 2014, there were 16,721 Somali speakers in Finland.