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Live from Abu Dhabi Connect the World takes you on a journey across continents, investigating the stories that are changing our world.

Connector of the day: Waris Dirie

October 6th, 2009
07:52 PM ET

A degree of stigma still surrounds the issue of female genital mutilation.

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/10/06/art.waris.dirie.jpg caption="Waris Dirie is a successful model and author"]

It is, understandably, a subject that a lot of people still feel uncomfortable talking about in public.

One person, more than perhaps any other, is helping to bring it into the public spotlight.

Waris Dirie is a Somalian supermodel and human rights activist who has led a rich and varied life since recovering from her own circumcision, performed at the age of five.

To avoid an arranged marriage with an older man, Dirie fled Somalia for London, where a fashion photographer discovered her.

Since then, Dirie’s successful modeling career has given her a greater platform to fight the procedure.

She created the Waris Dirie Foundation in 2002 and has been awarded numerous honors for her work.

The new film “Desert Flower,” which has just opened at the Venice Film Festival, is based on her best-selling autobiography.

Send your questions to Waris by filling in the form below.

soundoff (22 Responses)
  1. anna

    How much do you feel connected with Hirshi Ali, who also is an activist on Human rights,especially woman versus Islam.

    October 6, 2009 at 8:56 pm | Reply
  2. Michael Cosgrove

    Hi Waris,

    Could I ask you what has been the biggest single emotional or psychological element that drove (or led?) you to become, and remain, positive after all the suffering that you endured?


    October 6, 2009 at 10:14 pm | Reply
  3. cristiana mimmi

    I have been working in Somalia for few years and I highly appreciate your work. I would like to know if there is anything that single persons like me can do, from Italy or elsewhere, in order to support your campaign against FGM. Is it possible to do some voluntary work at Waris Dirie Foundation, writing articles or other useful things?
    Thanks and best regards

    October 7, 2009 at 8:25 am | Reply
  4. Apelu

    Hi Waris,

    Seeing as this tradition is another means to subdue women it is good to see a woman like you standing in its way.

    I would be interested to know what advocates of genital mutilation 'hide' behind, apart from just tradition. What are their pro arguments and do these differ in national/international debate?

    October 7, 2009 at 8:39 am | Reply
  5. Tochukwu obineze

    Im so excited seeing another African sister trying to change those cultural practices that has done us no good,i commend ur effort. and also there is another area i will wish u look into which is the youth, they are Africa's future please join me in this struggle to change them from ways of drugs,violence and vices to way of responsible living which will earn Africa peace prosperity and developement.

    October 7, 2009 at 8:49 am | Reply
  6. Asad

    Good work Waris...we need so many people more like you...change one step at a time...there is so much hidden in old societies...we owe a better legacy to our coming generations...at no other time has human kind had such an oppurtunity to step out of the darkness...and you are leading it out...bravo

    October 7, 2009 at 8:53 am | Reply
  7. Cheryl

    What motivated you to right this injustice?

    October 7, 2009 at 9:59 am | Reply
  8. Sophie

    What can ordinary Westerners do to help bring change?

    October 7, 2009 at 10:39 am | Reply
  9. Samon Awey

    Hello Waris,
    I commend your courage and determination.
    Are you involved in fighting genital mutilation in West Africa?

    October 7, 2009 at 10:46 am | Reply
  10. Victoria

    Bravo Warris for exposing this horrible related to Islam filth. Please expose the perversity of it all. Many support you. God bless.

    October 7, 2009 at 11:36 am | Reply
  11. Laura miguel

    do you think that you were able to achieve so much because of your beauty? Do you think it would have been possible otherwise?

    October 7, 2009 at 12:42 pm | Reply
  12. Jody Barron

    First, to what extent is the consciousness of the issue obscured by the fairly common view of male circumsion as relatively safe in both physiological and pyschological terms and a tendency to think that the female experience could be equally non-threatening? (in other words, a mind jump to the idea that physical alteration must be similar in effect in both genders).

    Second, what is the main source of the justification for this procedure? Is it the excessive power certain individuals have to interpret the holy books as they see fit, a justification of a "beauty culture" that is being passed down to preserve a certain identity, a way of prserving a certain family structure or other? I am not that familar with your initial homeland.

    P.S- I am a male Canadian.

    October 7, 2009 at 12:43 pm | Reply
  13. Irene Vega

    Braco Warris for taking such a bold step to speak against this debasing practice. Why do some women like you who have been through this same horrible experience, still feel obliged to put their own little girls through this too? What can I do to help?

    October 7, 2009 at 1:16 pm | Reply
  14. SS

    May God prosper your work Waris!
    Questions: how are your efforts viewed in Somalia? Are you well known there? Are people accepting your message? What kind of reactions have you faced?
    Most important: so far, have you been able to spare even a single young girl this act (no criticism of you – just curiosity).

    October 7, 2009 at 1:39 pm | Reply
  15. Susan Fior

    In Hirsi Ali's book, older women around her were instrumental in her having the procedure of genital mutilation. I found that shocking. Why would another woman hurt a little girl in that way? It actually seemed perverse to me. One issue is to deal with male attitudes about and norms for women and another is to address women's role in perpetuating the practice. How can you do that and how can other women, who are western, help?

    October 7, 2009 at 2:37 pm | Reply
  16. alex

    when will someone rise up against the unvoluntary genital mutilation of almost all males in the USA?

    October 7, 2009 at 2:41 pm | Reply
  17. Keira


    Can creating awareness about this issue be a grassroots movement in the community or would it be more effectively tackled by getting governments/celebrities, etc involved? For women who still see this as a 'natural' practice, would a grassroots movement change their mind & encourage them to help stop female mutilation?

    On a side note, Waris spoke at my college (College of New Rochelle in New Rochelle, NY) over 10 years ago. I still remember that lecture! Small world - how time flies too! 🙂

    October 7, 2009 at 3:26 pm | Reply
  18. Liban

    The issue of female genital circumcision is rightly a case to take up and campaign against, but do not fall into the trap of preaching to those who still practice this abomination. Rather, the only way forward in my view is to educate..., and in order to educate, one needs the full support of the Government Machinery, power and positive acquiescence.., and sadly, as you are aware, this does not exist today. Therefore, please remember, that in the same breath that you are advocating for the removal of this misery that is being inflicted on a segment of the great Somali nation, raise a voice for the troubled nation as a whole!!...Let’s encourage them to lay down their guns.., and hold hands for the sake of their children and those most vulnerable.

    PS: I'm Somali

    October 7, 2009 at 6:35 pm | Reply
  19. Sonia

    Hi Waris,

    GOD bless you. You are a brave woman to have done what you have done and to to keep going after what you've been through. Your honesty and courage are helping many women and hopefuly can help to prevent further female genital mutilation.

    Regards and best wishes.

    October 7, 2009 at 6:45 pm | Reply
  20. Soni Ryat

    Society is not the problem. Today, genital mutilation is one of the many many problems in society today. Female genital mutilation, is uneccesary, opposes mother nature and which can be traumatic for a female on many levels – not only phsically but also psychologically.

    In a continent where poverty does exist, poverty actually lies in the mind (too) which causes problems in social settings and damages social balance. People need to be educated. I am not referring to degrees and masters degrees. I mean very simple basic grassrots education which would raise awareness.

    Rome was not built overnight and it will take generations for humans to understand, absorb and put into practice what they have learnt. Societies take generations to evolve (globally). This is exemplified through history, events in history & the biggest blunders made by mankind, i.e. slavery, apartied & colonisation of many nations around the world. Would you imagine doing half the things humans did centuries ago ? I am sure not ...

    Before we evolved socially, we evolved in the mind first.

    Good luck Waris Dirie 🙂

    October 7, 2009 at 9:00 pm | Reply
  21. cram

    Genital mutilation of woman in Africa has nothing to do with Islam. It derives from a (cruel) ritual of initiation closely connected to family and clan structures deeply embedded in local traditions. In contrast, male circumcision derives from Orthodox religious practices (both Jewish and Muslim) and, in the US, hygeine paranoia and sexual puritanism (fear that boys masturbate). To criticize male circumcision is a great taboo because it undermines the standard masculinity ideology .

    I have a lot of respect for Waris Diri but is she not being ab/used by the 'clash of civilization' lobby that equals circumcision with Islam and/ or cultural backwardness. Keep in mind: babys in the Western world born as hermaprodites are still surgical 'normalized' – many of them kill themselves later in life. We in the 'west' or morally or culturally not on a higher level. Sorry, this became a bit long and is not a real question.

    October 7, 2009 at 9:04 pm | Reply
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