By Clare Horan
Under all the bright lights, makeup, and fabric, Waris Dirie has a story, a life of escape and courage, one that has led to her to be one of the leading advocates for the end of female genital mutilation (FGM). She has had to overcome numerous obstacles to be where she is today, one being her survival of female genital mutilation.
FGM is a non-medical practice that cuts or removes female genital organs, which can lead to serious medical consequences like excessive bleeding, problems with pregnancy, mental health problems and menstruation. In fact, it is estimated that every 11 seconds a girl in the world is cut. You may think, why is this even a practice, if it has no medical reason and is a cause for many problems for women? Well, FGM’s main purpose is nothing to do with the interests of girls or women at all. In fact, it is seen as making them ‘marriageable’ by preserving the virginity and increasing the sexual pleasure of men. But the truth is that it’s nothing less than child abuse, torture, and it’s a violation of numerous human rights.
Waris Dirie, the famous Somalian Author, Model and actress went through the process of female genital mutilation at just the age of 5. Then later at the age of 13 she escaped to relatives in Mogadishu, from an arranged marriage to a 60-year-old man, however she couldn’t stay long. So, she escaped to London with her uncle who was an ambassador there. After working without pay as a maid in the embassy, she lived in a home of the YMCA, started to learn English, and worked as a cleaner. Then, at the age of 18 came her one in a million chance. She was found by a photographer, Mike Gross, who convinced her to model for him. This led her to soon have a successful career as a model, working for Chanel, Revlon, Levi’s and more.
Waris Dirie is not the only woman to have gone through FGM, she is a part of the estimated 200 million girls and women alive today that have undergone FGM, but she knows this. She knew that she needed to use her platform to spread awareness on this issue. So, it was when Dirie was in the prime of her fame in 1997 is when she spoke out for the first time about her experiences with FGM in an interview with the Marie Claire magazine. She then became an advocate for end of FGM, worked as UN envoy, wrote her bestselling autobiography, ‘Desert Flower’, which sold 11 million copies across the world and so many more accomplishments. Her achievements are not just significant for her, they are writing a new story for women who are survivors of FGM.
In 2002, Waris Dirie established her Desert Flower foundation, which has been instrumental in the eradication of the use of female genital mutilation around the world. This foundation has established schools and helped with the supply of healthcare. For example, last year on the 10th of January, the foundation opened the first, ‘Desert Flower School’, in Sierra Leone for 400 children. Waris Dirie referred to this new school, saying, "If you want to help girls and women in Africa sustainably, you have to invest in education!"
It’s women like Waris Dirie who have inspired us and others around the world to help with the eradication of female genital mutilation. While we may not be using Waris Dirie’s foundation, we are still supporting a vital organisation, ‘Call for Kenya’, for our Loreto Day cause in 2021 to raise money and spread awareness for this very important world issue.