Sweden’s first hijabi lawmaker is gearing to fight against social and racial inequality

Leila Ali Elmi’s childhood was an exercise in the future awaiting her in politics.

At age two, she arrived in Sweden along with her family after fleeing the civil war in her homeland Somalia. For the next 29 years, she lived and worked in the Angered suburb in Gothenburg, Sweden’s second-biggest city. The neighborhood was designed in the 1960s as part of a decade-long initiative to build a million affordable homes—yet faced increasing isolation as more immigrant communities moved in, before evolving into a notorious, crime-ridden enclave with low educational access and high unemployment levels.

In a nation viewed as a paragon of fairness globally, Leila observed glaring disparities between other neighborhoods and where she called home. And so as a young teen, she got involved with her community, volunteered with civil society organizations, and eventually joined the Green Party as a city councilor in 2014. During her tenure, she took on issues including abolishing school segregation, creating a more inclusive city and ensuring equal opportunities for all.

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