The Brazilian website Afrobras has published an interview with Waris Dirie. On the website, the interview is available in Portuguese. You can find the English translation below.
Die Brasilianische Website Afrobras hat ein Interview mit Waris Dirie veröffentlicht. Das Interview gibt es hier auf Portugiesisch, unten eine englische Übersetzung.
Afrobras: You have become known cause of your overcome history. That makes you almost a modern Cinderella. If you have to analyse your life’s trajectory. How could you describe that?
Waris Dirie: My life may look like a Cinderella story from the outside, but of course I do not see my life that way. I have fought very hard to achieve what I have, but I never felt like I was done once I became successful as a model. Instead, I decided to use my fame to bring attention to the crime of female genital mutilation, which affects 150 million women world-wide, including myself.
You are the UN ambassador in the fight against female genital mutilation. Could you explain for our readers what is that and how did happen? Who are the victims of that?
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is a destructive operation during which the female genitals are partly or entirely removed or injured. This is done to inhibit a woman’s sexual feelings and to make sure that a woman is faithful to her husband. It is usually performed on girls when they are between 2 and 5 years old, but in some societies, little babies are mutilated only a few days after their birth or older girls are mutilated before getting married.
Female Genital Mutilation happens primarily in Africa, in particular in North-Eastern, Eastern and Western Africa. However, it also takes place in the Middle East, in South-East Asia – and also among immigrants in Europe. According to estimates by the World Health Organisation (WHO) 150 million women are affected by FGM world-wide. In Europe, the number of mutilated women or girls and women threatened by FGM amounts up to 500,000. You can find detailed information on the different types of FGM and the consequences it has for the victims on the website of the Waris Dirie Foundation: http://www.waris-dirie-foundation.com and on my facebook page http://www.facebook.com/warisdiriefoundation
Have you seen changes since you have told to the world what happened to you?
Many things have improved since I started fighting against FGM. In fact, more things have changed in the last 15 years than in the 4000 years before that. Almost all states in Africa have changed their laws and made FGM illegal. Awareness of FGM and its dangers has also increased tremendously. Fifteen years ago, hardly anyone in Europe knew what FGM even is, now nobody can honestly say they never heard about it.
But a lot remains to be done. Millions of girls continue to be mutilated every year, thousands every day. I will not stop fighting until there is not a single girl left on this planet that is threatened by FGM. We cannot be satisfied as long as girls still suffer this torture.
FGM is a symptom, and a very cruel one, of a wider problem of societies not recognizing and respecting women. I am convinced that FGM can only be eradicated if the position of the women in these societies changes. This is one of my main arguments in my new book “Black woman, white country”.
Brazil is the largest Black Country outside Africa, with around of 80 million afro descendants, furthermore, nowadays our country receives thousands of African citizens every year. Until this moment we don’t know about any case of FGM in our country. Do you have any information about that?
As we can see from the situation in Europe, on which I conducted a detailed research for my book “Desert Children”, immigrants from countries and societies that practice FGM continue to practice FGM in their new countries. This is promoted by close-knit communities that often develop in countries with a lot of immigration. I do not have any data on the situation in Brazil, but since there are many African immigrants, it is very likely that certain immigrant communities in Brazil practice FGM.
Nowadays, what are the major challenges in the fight against FGM? How can people, institutions and governments help?
Everyone can contribute something to the fight against FGM. Governments can make laws against it, organizations can oversee the execution of these laws. But the biggest contribution comes from the people. It’s the people can can put pressure on their governments to make FGM illegal. It’s the people who can help raise awareness, and it’s the people that have to be alert and help protect innocent children from becoming victims of FGM.
You have left a poor country and become a international model. Thousands of Brazilian Black girls have the characteristics to become a model and cause of the racism they don’t have the opportunity to do that. Have you had this kind of challenge on your career? What kind of tip you could give to them?
I was one of the first black women that really became successful in the modeling industry in the 1980s, so in the beginning, I hardly got any jobs because the customers though a black face could not sell their products. I had to overcome a lot of prejudice, but in the end, I succeeded. My advice
Your books are autobiographies. What about is your last book “Black woman, white country”.
My new book “Black woman, white country” is about my home continent Africa. Having lived in many parts of the world, Africa will always be the place I am from, it’s the place where I feel most at home. Africa is an extremely diverse and an extremely rich continent, it has abundant resources and unlimited talent. And yet, it is still the poorest continent in the world. I just had to wonder: why? How is this possible after more than 60 years of development aid and billions of dollars having been sent to Africa. I have come to the conclusion that development aid is not the answer to address poverty and the bad human rights and women’s rights situation in Africa. What Africa needs is not donations, but investments. Investments that will create sustainable growth and jobs. There are so many ideas in Africa, and people start believing in their own strength again to really help their countries advance. This is the main message of my new book.
How do you see the vision that the world has about Africa nowadays, considering that people treats the continent as a only country without respect their individual characteristics?
As I said, Africa is extremely diverse. It is a huge continent and has so many different cultures, languages, religions and customs. While I would like to see people realize this, it is even more important to me that people start seeing the potential that Africa has. Many people see Africa as a continent of poverty, deserts and starvation. But there are so many forests, green and fertile lands in Africa, there are so many resources and so many great ideas. My biggest dream is to see this potential turn into more wealth, health and wellbeing for the African people.
How do you see the situation in Somalia nowadays? Is your family still there? Do you have any kind of project in that location?
It is very painful for me to see Somalia destroying itself the way it does. My family still lives in Somalia, they consider it their home and do not want to leave. While I understand that, I worry about them, too. At the moment, Somalia is so unstable that it is impossible to travel there. The last time I met my family, they had to come to Ethiopia so see me. This is also why I am working on projects in Ethiopia, where many Somali refugees live.