Sumaya Abdel Qader, 38, is Milan’s first Muslim councilwoman. The sociologist and women’s rights activist was born in Italy to Jordanian and Palestinian parents. The win for Ms. Qader, a member of the center-left Democratic Party, is a major accomplishment in many ways. First, it was a clear achievement for her party — for the past twenty-five years, the region has mostly been governed by conservative mayors. And secondly, even more importantly, according to Al Jazeera, “just last year legislators attempted to implement ‘anti-mosque’ laws [in Milan]. These regulations were struck down by Italy’s highest court, but anti-immigrant, and anti-Islam politicians remain vocal.”
Ms. Qader talks to Al Jazeera about growing up as a Muslim child in Italy, feminism, and her goals in office.
Ms. Qader: I was born in Perugia, to Jordanian and Palestinian parents. As a girl I suffered the absence of grandparents, in-laws and cousins near me. I used to go to my friends’ homes to stay with their grandparents and listen to their stories from a far past. I loved to hear them and make them part of my own story. I remember my first day of high school. I had just begun to wear my hijab and I stepped into class with a lot of fear to be mocked for this reason. But instead, I found lifelong friendships.
Ms.Qader: Last March, I started Aisha, a project that aims to teach young Muslims about sexual education and the importance of women’s rights.
I do not consider myself a feminist, however, because labels are always reductive. I see myself more as a defender of civil rights and freedom.
Goals for office:
Ms. Qader: I will strive to contribute to the improvement of the outskirts of the city and make them new hubs of a policentric Milan. I will apply myself to make Milan more appreciated by Milanese people and foreigners alike.