FAB Magazine recently published an interview with Waris Dirie on her work, her beliefs and the movie “Desert Flower”. Here is a copy of this very interesting and personal interview:
1. Who is Waris Dirie?
Answers: Above all, I am a human being. I am also a woman, a mother, a human rights activist and a nomad. And many other things, too.
2. Tell us about your journey from Somalia to Austria?
I left my family when I was 14 years old to escape an arranged marriage to a much older man. What happened from there on was told in my book “Desert Flower”. I have travelled the whole world and I don’t think that I will every find a place where I will stay forever. I will always be a nomad.
3. You shocked the world in in 1997 by talking for the first time about your experience of FGM and have since continued campaigning against it. In your experience over the last 12 years both with your foundation and as a UN ambassador, to what extent do you think the circumstances have changed for young girls in parts of the world where FGM is still practised?
In the last 12 years, many countries have adopted laws against FGM. Awareness of this problem has increased tremendously, especially in Europe and Africa. However, my fight against this crime will continue until FGM is eradicated everywhere in the world. For a girl that is genitally mutilated, legal changes do not matter. I will fight until this crime is eradicated.
4. What does Waris Dirie foundation’s work involve?
Together with my team, I work to raise awareness on FGM through campaigns, speeches, interviews, lectures and by providing advice per email. In the last years, we have received more than 40,000 emails from all over the world. But we do not only focus on awareness. I am convinced that the only way to effectively eradicate FGM is to strengthen the position of women in the societies where FGM happens. To do this, we are developing and supporting now projects that create jobs and thereby a stable income for women in Africa. I believe that financial independence is a key factor for African women in gaining a stronger position within society.
5. There is still a lot of debate about FGM. What is your argument against those who support it as tradition?
FGM has nothing to do with culture, religion or tradition. It is a crime against humanity, and a crime committed on innocent little girls. It is a crime that needs to be stopped and those who commit it should be prosecuted.
6. Your life story is like a movie and it has been turned into one. What did you make of the movie’s portrayal of your life?
I was involved in the process of making this movie, from the script to choosing the actors to the final cut. When I met Sherry Horman, the director, for the first time, I told her what I wanted: that people should cry, but also laugh when they see this movie. There have been sad and funny, scary and wonderful moments in my life and I wanted the movie to reflect that. And I think it worked out really well.
7. In ‘Desert Flower’ you make the statement, ‘Let’s change what it means to be a woman.” How do you define being a Fabulous African black woman?
I define myself as a person that spreads LOVE and RESPECT. That’s what our world needs.
8. What would your advice be to young women who have suffered/survived FGM?
Respect your daughters, do not continue with this terrible torture. Talk about it, teach your family, friends and neighbours about the horrible consequences for the girls. Stand up for your rights.
9. What in your opinion is required to bring the wide-spread practice of FGM in some cultures to an end?
The standing and social recognition of women has to change in the societies where FGM continues to exist. What FGM really is about is the suppression of women. It is the most violent form of suppression of women one could think of, an attempt to control a woman by controlling her body and her sexuality. What really has to change is the perception of women.
10. What is next for Waris Dirie? What new projects are you working on?
As I said I am working on establishing projects in Africa to create sustainable and fairly paid jobs for women. Beating poverty and providing education are key in eradicating FGM.