They came to Minnesota as refugees in search of a safe home. Now, some 10 years later, they’ve become a powerful force in the workplace, politics, and their communities.

However, Muslim women in Minnesota are increasingly investing their time and energy to improve lives in their adopted home.

“Now we know how to fight for our rights,” said union organizer Kadijo Mohamed.

Worlds away from the life of deadly warfare they left behind in Somalia, the culture shock of America was immediate.

“America … Oh, my God! I don’t know what I’m doing,” said union officer Katra Arale.

The adjustment was a struggle. Because of the language barrier, the women couldn’t get the higher-paying jobs they would have in Somalia. Instead, they became the janitors cleaning downtown high rise offices.

“It’s not the type of work Somalia women do back home,” said union member Curej Bered, although many still find satisfaction in their work.

“I do hard work and I like my job,” said union steward Sabad Jama.

Some of their employers didn’t understand their Muslim culture and their need to pray several times a day, some even running into difficulty with supervisors refusing to let them engage in their religious practice. It was just one of the issues addressed when union organizers stepped in.

“I think there was a lot of frustration that people had about the difficulties at work and the disrespect they had encountered,” said union program director Greg Nammacher.

At first these women didn’t trust what the union promised. Jama admitted not knowing what a union even meant at the time. But it wasn’t long before the Muslim women understood the benefits.

“People were really hungry to see a change and they felt like they didn’t have the rights or power to do it,” said Nammacher.

Change brought with it a chance for leadership opportunities in the union. The women took the confidence they gained as leaders and began to apply their skills to other aspects of their lives.

“I started at that time to be a steward in our building,” said Jama. Mohamed pointed out, “I’m an organizer.” (MORE)


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