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Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Waris Dirie's Fight Against FGM

A serious post today.  I apologise in advance in case I offend anyone.  I thought long and hard about whether to write this post.  Then I decided it is a subject that I feel strongly about, this blog is about me and my world and I believe in free speech.  You do not have to read it.

You may well have heard of her already, but if not I would like to tell you about an amazing woman called Waris Dirie ... and believe me, when I say amazing, I am not using the superlative flippantly.  She is more than amazing.

Some years ago I read a book called Desert Flower.  It moved me to tears – it affected me deeply, as a woman, as a mother and as a human being.  I do not believe anyone could not be moved by this book – if you have read it I know you will understand what I mean.

The book was written by a remarkable woman called Waris Dirie, a Somalian, born into a nomadic clan in 1965.  At a young age she was subjected to the atrocious, invasive procedure known as FGM (female genital mutilation), which many young girls still endure.  To make matters worse, at the age of just 13, she fled from her family to escape an arranged marriage to a 60 year old man she had never met.  After crossing the desert and staying with various distant relatives, she eventually found her way to London, where she lived and worked with some wealthy relatives, but was in fact a virtual prisoner.

In a twist of fate, Waris was spotted by celebrated photographer Terence Donovan, who secured her a contract for the cover of the 1987 Pirelli calendar.  From there, her modeling career rocketed and she worked for Chanel and Levis, appeared on the London, Paris, Milan and New York runways and on the cover of Vogue.
In 1997, in a shocking interview with Marie Claire magazine (which received worldwide media coverage), Waris spoke for the first time about the FGM she had undergone as a child.  From then on, Waris has campaigned vigorously for the abolition of FGM, writing her telling autobiography and becoming a UN ambassador. 

What it FGM?

It is defined by the World Health Organisation as “all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia”.

It is estimated that 3 million girls are subjected to this barbaric practice every year.  Although the prevalence rates in some African countries can be as high as 98%, it is no longer restricted to African countries, and with population movement is increasingly being practiced in Europe, Australia, New Zealand the US and Canada.  As many as 6500 girls are now estimated to be at risk of FGM in the UK!

The procedure is traditionally carried out by an older woman with no medical training.  Anaesthetics and antiseptic are not generally used and the cutting is usually carried out using basic tools such as knives, scissors, pieces of glass and razor blades.  Afterwards the legs are bound together and the shocked victim left to 'heal'.  In poorer countries many die from blood loss or severe infection at this stage. 

The short term health implications include severe pain, shock, infection, urine retention (the remaining skin is stitched together leaving a minute opening) and fatal haemorrhaging.  In the long term there can be extensive internal damage, agonising periods, incontinence and infertility (resulting in abandonment by any future husband) and severe complications in childbirth.  There are many more which I feel are too detailed and shocking for this post.

The justifications for practising FGM are many and generally relate to customs and traditions that dictate the compliance of women.  Many women believe that FGM is necessary in order to be accepted by their community and they are unaware that it is not practiced in most of the world. 

If you are interested in learning more, please read Waris’s book.  Also, if you want to follow her work, you can read Waris’s blog Black Woman, White Country.  She is an amazing woman, doing an amazing job for the women of the world.


Vintage Sunday said...

An amazing woman, doing an amazing job indeed! As are you, for highlighting this barbaric custom *amazingly* still practiced today! Thank you!

Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Hello Marina:
This is indeed a very moving post. Such a harrowing story which at least for Waris has given a positive way to channel her feelings and her campaign to help others who find themselves in similar positions. Not all women subjected to this barbaric procedure have any means of expression.

One cannot begin to see why this practice still continues or, indeed, how widespread it actually is. All that one can hope is that by bringing such matters into the public domain positive outcomes for all may be possible.

Rose H (UK) said...

I did know of the practice, and that it continues. You are quite right it IS barbaric. I haveen't read the book but I have heard of Warris. Thank you for highlighting this terrible issue.

My Spotty Pony said...

I struggled to get through this book due to the emotional effect it had on me. But I did manage to read about the life of this truly amazing woman. And I think we should all be made aware of this barbaric custom, so thank you for taking the time to write this post.
Abby x

Fading Grace said...

It is incomprehensible to think that such a barbaric, practice is still happening in this day. I have not read the book and if I'm honest I think I would be like Abby and find it very hard to deal with. It is sometimes a terribly sad and cruel world that we live in, It is important to make our bit of it as good and right as it can be. Thank you for writing this post,xx

Michela said...

I know this barbaric practice is done also in Italy, because of the many African immigrants we have.
Thank you for drawing our attention to this very serious matter.

A Treasured Past said...

I can't believe that it is practiced here in Australia, that is insane! Thanks for writing such an important post, Tam x

greenthumb said...

I just don't know what to say.

*Maristella* said...

Buongiorno Marina. Molto bello il tuo post, dobbiamo fermarci e diventare anche seri, a volte!
Ti ringrazio per il commento e ti ringrazio ancora tanto per il premio che mi hai assegnato!
Un caro saluto, *Maristella*.

Ann Marie said...

it is a hard thing to talk about, but you are brave to do so. thank you for this post. i'm totally going to get this book. the more we learn about it and the more we talk about it the more power we have to overcome it.