Waris Dirie ‘Desert Flower’, the true story of a cruel rite

Recently, I have been reading the book Desert Flower by Waris Dirie and Cathleen Millar, which deals with the true story of Waris: a young teenager running away from her nomadic clan in Somalia in order to escape a forced marriage. Waris grew up in the ancestral traditions of her native land. She was about five years old when she began begging her monther to allow her to celebrate that special day in many tribes and clans in Africa: the day she will become a pure woman. At that time Waris did not know that one year later she was going to meet the women that she calls the ‘slayer’ and live through the most horrible suffering of her life: female circumcision. According to the local cultural beliefs, female circumcision ensures that the woman will be faithful to the man she marries and will not have any sexual experience before marriage. Consequently, girls who have not been circumcised may be seen as ‘unclean girls’ that no man would like to marry.

In that book, Waris tells, with candour, both the harshness and happiness of living within a nomadic clan; the very difficult reality of life that she was able to ignore due to her love of nature and her deep affection for her mum. When she arrived in the Somali capital of Mogadishu several years after the ceremony, Waris was hosted by her aunts and one day her uncle took her with him to go work in London in his family as a maid. She did that for four years. Then she worked in a fast food restaurant for a while before becoming a fashion model. A dream comes true, Waris’ destiny was actually as special as she had always believed and somehow hoped. Waris Dirie is a woman of courage, a very lively girl who struggled to create a better world, to improve the conditions for women not only from Somali but for women from all around the world who were forced to go through female circumcision.

As Waris Durie wrote: « After much thought, I realized I needed to talk about my circumcision; First of all, it bothers me deeply. Besides the health problems that I still struggle with, I will never know the pleasures of sex. I feel incomplete, crippled, and knowing that there’s nothing I can do to change that is the most hopeless feeling of all. The second reason was my hope of making people aware that this practice still occurs today. I’ve got to speak not only for me but for the millions of girls living with it and those dying from it. » (The Waris Dirie story)

From 1997 Waris stopped her modelling career to focus on her work against female circumcision around the world. She founded the Desert Flower Foundation in 2002 and used the money raised for the creation of schools and clinics in Somalia. In 2010, Waris Durie was named as Peace Ambassador for the Year of Peace and Security by the African Union.

It is important to point out that despite laws forbidding female circumcision, it is still very commonly practised: an estimated 135 million of the world’s girls and women have undergone genital mutilation (mainly in Africa) , and two million girls a year are at risk of mutilation – approximately 6,000 per day. (Amnesty International – What is female genital mutilation ?)

(Source: Child Info – National prevalence of female genital mutilations in Africa)

Moreover, that barbaric surgery kills thousands of girls per year, letting them heal by themselves without painkillers or follow-up care. The United Nations, Amnesty International and many worldwide organizations for women have worked hard to stop these cruel habits but the main problem is to fight against the local, traditional religious beliefs. Further, local associations in Africa need more financial help to implement measures.