Photo above by DFID – UK Department for International Development’s photostream via Flickr
Last week I watched a movie with my aunt called Desert Flower. The movie is based on the bestselling novel by Waris Dirie, an autobiography which embodies her life’s journey as she escaped from child-marriage in Somalia, struggled through homelessness, and became a well-known international supermodel. The film was beautiful, inspiring and filled with purpose. But what struck me the most about it, was Dirie’s purpose. Although she had made it out of poverty, an arranged marriage and a neglectful home, she chose to reflect upon her painful past, not to change her outcome, but to prevent the same outcome for many other girls in her village (and those alike).
The fact is, at the tender age of three, Waris Dirie became a victim of female genital cutting – FGC (or female circumcision). The grueling details are too horrific to even write; so to quickly elaborate: the genitalia are cut and the girl is sewn up to preserve her virginity for marriage.
The mere thought causes me too tremble, and I feel for any girl that has had to endure such a procedure. Dirie, being a survivor, has made it her mission and her purpose to stop the tradition entirely. Aside from the unbearable pain during the procedure (and after), there have been numerous girls who have bled out during the process, and the survivors have a high chance of infection and long-term consequences. Dirie’s own sister died from infection while the baby was still inside of her.
The practice has survived through tradition, in which the woman must be cut as a child in order to be considered “clean” before marriage. Without the circumcision, the men within their village will not marry them, and they are outcaste by society. However since the tradition has been acknowledged and researched, it has been discovered that “female mutilation has no cultural, no traditional and no religious aspect. It is a crime which seeks justice” (-Waris Dirie).
Inspired by her own experiences, Dirie created the “Desert Flower Foundation” to fight FGC worldwide. More than 150 million women and girls are affected by the practice, and contrary to popular belief, female circumcision continues to be performed in not only Africa, but Europe, Australia and even America.
I learned these facts and more after watching this movie, researching Dirie’s foundation, and attending the World’s Women Summit – “Women In The World” this past weekend. At the summit, Molly Melching was introduced as a human rights activist who has spent the last forty years of her life advocating for human rights around the world, and attempting to end FGC. It was inspiring to see a woman but 20 feet away from me, who was out there trying to put a stop to something that every woman can relate to. And it was comforting to know that someone was doing something, and no one was waiting for anything.
But what really struck me was her guest. Melching had brought yet another advocator who opposed the practice of FGC; an Imam from a Senegal village that once practiced female circumcisions themselves! For those of you who don’t know, an Imam is a Muslim religious leader or chief, and a very powerful (if not the most powerful) position to hold within a Muslim community. After meeting with Melching, and learning of human rights, Imam Demba Diawara researched the practice of FGC, and found that it was not mentioned in the Koran (-sacred text of Islam), and had no cultural significance whatsoever. Simply put, the Imam saw that FGC had only negatives associated with its existence, and so he is now doing his part by traveling from village to village and stopping the practice himself by ‘word of mouth.’ Together, they have made incredible progress, and hope to cease FGC in Africa by 2015.
Although I was slightly aware of this situation before the movie and the summit, I can say that I am well educated on the topic now, and I am in a position to help; as are all of you. Woman to woman, what happened to Waris Dirie and what’s happening to millions of women today, could have happened to any of us. We can’t control when or where we are born, and who is placed in this world as our parents and protectors. Female genital mutilation is a crime, and it is killing our sisters who have no control or way to stop it. But you have a voice; so please use it.