Sunday, April 8, 2012

Men always afraid of the strength of women: Waris Dirie

Abdul Gani
WARIS MEANS Desert Flower, a flower that can bloom even in the roughest climate. Waris Dirie is a nomadic child from Somalia and a mother of two beautiful sons. She is a human rights activist, a supermodel, and a best-selling author who has received numerous prestigious awards for her work and her commitment in the fight against female genital mutilation.

Waris Dirie was born in 1965 into a nomad family living in the region of Gallcaio, in the Somali desert near the border to Ethiopia. At the tender age of five, she underwent the inhuman procedure of genital mutilation (FMG- Female Genital Mutilation). This horrible tradition is still practiced worldwide today. According to estimations of the United Nations, more than 8, 000 girls become victims of this cruel crime every day.

What is FGM: Female Genital Mutilation (often referred to as FGM) is a destructive operation, during which the female genitals are partly or entirely removed or injured with the goals of inhibiting a woman’s sexual feelings. Most often the mutilation is performed before puberty, often on girls between the age of four and eight, but recently it is increasingly performed on nurslings who are only a couple of days, weeks or months old.

At the age of 13 Waris fled from a forced marriage to a man, who could have been her grandfather in age. After an adventurous escape she arrived in London and worked there as a housemaid and at McDonald’s.

Then she was discovered by a top British photographer Terence Donovan as a model at the age of 18 and became an international celebrity.

She was given a part as a James Bond girl in the movie The Living Daylight, side by side with Timothy Dalton.

Then Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, appointed her as UN Special Ambassador in 1997 for the elimination of Female Genital Mutilation. She travelled the world for the UN, participated in conferences, met with presidents, Nobel Prize winners and movie stars and collects enormous funds for the UN.

In 2002 she founded her own foundation, named Waris Dirie Foundation, based in Vienna/Austria and since then has collected money for her own projects.

For over 12 years, Waris Dirie has fought against female genital mutilation (FGM) worldwide. At least 150 million women and girls are affected by this cruel practice, which continues to be performed in Africa, but also in Asia, Europe, America and Australia.

The Waris Dirie Foundation seeks to end this crime by raising public awareness, creating networks, organizing events and educational programmes. The foundation also supports victims of FGM.

She has also earned fame as an author. In 1997 Waris Dirie’s biography Desert Flower became an international bestseller. The book appeared in more than 50 licensed editions and became number 1 of the best-seller lists in many countries. Till today, there were 11 million copies sold worldwide. Besides that she penned Desert Dawn, Desert Children and Letter To My Mother. Her latest book Black Woman White Country was released recently.

These days she is busy with her endeavour in Africa. In an interview the former supermodel reveals more her thoughts and mission.


Abdul Gani: Dirie, please tell our readers why you have gave up modeling and dedicate yourself to humanitarian work.

Waris Dirie: From the moment I was mutilated, even though I was still a small child, I always knew that I would one day fight against FGM. Having had gained fame through modeling, I knew the right moment had come, so I took the chance.

AG: Give an idea of your foundation and how it works?

WD: My foundation provides information on FGM to victims, journalists, schools, universities and anyone who wants to become involved in the fight against it. We also work on projects that focus on the empowerment of women in general, since FGM is nothing else but the most brutal form of suppression of women. We receive countless emails, often from young people, and every single email will be answered. You can get a good impression of the work of the WDF on the website ( and follow my projects in Africa on my blog ( People can also follow me on Twitter ( and facebook (

AG: You have been working in these fields for years. In which continent you have devoted more time? What are the differences in problems faced by women in Africa, Asia or Europe?

WD:In the past, I did most of my works in Europe, raising awareness about FGM. I have always been involved in Africa, too, but in the future, Africa will be my focus.

Through the thousands of emails I have received, I have learned that although women live under very different circumstances in Africa, Asia and Europe, their problems are more similar than one would expect. It seems that women who have experienced violence in any form relate to my books and my life story a lot, even though they come from completely different backgrounds.

AG: Rate of development throughout the years? Are you satisfied?

WD: A lot of things have improved, many states have enacted laws against FGM or made existing laws more restrictive. But I will not be satisfied until there is not a single girl on this planet affected by FGM.

AG: Have you ever come to India? What do you think about the Indian women and their problems? Any plan of visiting the country in near future?

WD:Unfortunately, I have never been to India, but I would love to go, so please invite me!

AG: Besides FMC (female genital mutilation), women also suffer from other severe problems. What are the major causes? Just lack of education or what?

WD: I think men are and always have been afraid of the strength of women. This is the root cause for all suppression, discrimination and crimes against women.

AG: How it can be solved? Do you think that males in the society too have a major role to play?

WD: Women need to gain more independence, financially and socially. In Europe you can see that having your own income gives women more independence and eventually close to an equal social status. I know that African women are very very strong, and I want the same development for them. This is why I am working on projects to employ women under fait conditions. This way, they become independent and strong.

AG: We know that you have also earned a good name as a writer. Tell some of your experiences as a writer and a little about your latest book Schwarze Frau, Weisses Land (Black Woman White Country).

WD: My new book is my most political, but also a very personal book. It is a book about Africa and my hopes, dreams and plans both for my home continent and for myself. It is a book about the differences between Africa and my new home in Europe and about my desire to return home. But it is also a book that criticizes a lot of things that are happening in Africa and gives some ideas about how to solve Africa’s problems.

AG: You have been doing a tremendous job. We can understand how tough it can be. We wish you good luck.

WD: Thank you. (


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