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Waris Dirie: The Ever-Blossoming Desert Flower

Soaring above her shocking ordeal as a victim of horrific maiming through Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), the award-winning humanitarian, women’s rights activist, novelist and former supermodel, Waris Dirie, has for years been an emblem of hope for thousands of young girls across Africa. Girls still forced to undergo the old-age traditional practice that many believe is way past its sell-by-date but which still permeates across Africa, causing alarming harm to future generations of mothers. Interview by Masanda Peter

 In this exclusive interview with New African Woman, Waris Dirie, the mother of two who captured our hearts in her debut novel – Desert Flower – in which she openly shared the gruesomeness of her “circumcision” and how she rose above it, tells us why she believes FGM is not only “a cruel form of suppressing women” but also a “pointless and dangerous” practice that has to be brought to an end.

Desert Flower has now been made into a biopic starring stunning Ethiopian supermodel Liya Kebede as Dirie. It opened to rave reviews in Europe last April and in June premiered in Africa at the International Film Festival in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, before being rolled out across the continent. The movie, largely filmed in Djibouti, re-enacts Dirie’s trials, tribulations and triumphs, including how at only three years old she was circumcised, and at 13 was forced to flee her homeland of Somalia after being tipped off about a pending arranged marriage with an older man. Cinema audiences have been brought to tears by some of the shockingly disturbing but authentic scenes depicting the brutal, unhealthy and dangerous FGM rituals, which sadly many young girls still experience. The message in the movie is there to provoke indignation and question whether this practice has meaning in today’s free word.

“I work to raise awareness on the cruelty, pointlessness and dangers of FGM. I want nobody in the world to be able to say, ‘I never knew about this’,” Dirie tells New African Woman.

Dirie’s life has indeed been more than extraordinary. She has transformed from being a fugitive downtrodden teenager to a catwalk supermodel and international human rights icon. Since leaving the modelling world in 1997, Dirie has dedicated her life to fighting female circumcision and campaigning for the rights of women, both in her personal capacity as well as a United Nations Special Ambassador for the Elimination of Female Genital Mutilation. She has also set up a number of organisations including the Waris Dirie Foundation, The Desert Dawn Foundation and the PPR Foundation for Women’s Dignity and Rights, which she helped found with French tycoon François-Henri Pinault and his Hollywood actress wife Salma Hayek. Dirie explains all in the following interview:

NAW: What made you release Desert Flower – the movie?

Waris Dirie: I knew that this movie could reach a lot of people, especially young people, and I knew it would be a great opportunity to make more people become aware of FGM. Of course, a lot was shortened from the book to make it suitable for the movie. But what mattered most to me was for the movie to be able send a very strong message against FGM. And I believe it has. Secondly, it was important to me that the movie also portrayed the fun and the happy side of my life. I wanted the audience who see it to cry [about the effects of FGM] but to see the happy side of my life as well.

Why did you choose Liya Kebede to play you in the movie – what was it about her?  
I describe the moment I made that decision in detail in my new book Black Woman, White Country. I watched a casting video that the director of the movie, Sherry Horman, had sent me, while I was on holiday with my older son Aleeke. I was watching the DVD when my son suddenly asked whether that was me in the video. I looked closer and recognised Liya.  In that second, I knew she was right for the role.

A lot has been said and written about you since you left Somalia at a very young age and under very difficult circumstances. But who in your own words is Waris Dirie today?
A strong woman, who is perfect within all her weaknesses and flaws. I left Somalia when I was 13 and entered a completely different world. It seemed like absolutely everything in my life changed, but deep inside I am still an African girl from the Somali desert

SOURCE: IC Publications

URL: Click here

DATE: 17/07/2010

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