Seeking Justice: How A Somali Girl Saved Thousands Of Women From A Horrific National Tradition

Date June 14, 2019

The modern world is paradoxical. While technology is evolving at a fast pace, some parts of the world are infamous for their weird, horrible, and even monstrous traditions that cripple human lives. One of these traditions is female circumcision. This procedure, carried out without any medical indications, consists of the partial or complete elimination of female genitalia. Terrible manipulation is carried out for ritual or religious reasons.

This habit dates back to the 15th-16th centuries and still exists today! Female circumcision is practiced in countries in Africa, parts of Asia, and the Middle East. According to UNICEF, at least 200 million girls are currently living in the world who have undergone this crippling procedure.

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The situation with female circumcision has gradually begun to change in recent years. In 2012, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution to put an end to the monstrous manipulation.

Little Waris was born in Galkayo, Somalia. She fortunately survived after circumcision at 5, while two of her sisters died.

Waris will remember that terrible day her entire life. After the procedure, her mother added:

Well, now you're a woman.

Her family was engaged in cattle breeding, and Waris shepherded cattle since she was 6. At 13, she attracted a 60-year-old wealthy man. After negotiating with the family, he became the girl’s groom. The payment included 5 camels. The family immediately began to prepare for the celebration.

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But the wedding didn’t happen – Waris ran away. She crossed the desert until she barely got to Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, to her relatives. The girl found them and agreed to any work she was given. After some time, Waris managed to fly away to London with fake documents. She found her uncle, who lived and worked as an ambassador to Somalia.

The girl worked as a servant in her uncle's house for several years. She helped with the housework and took care of his children. When Waris turned 16, her uncle's contract ended, and he left for Somalia. Our heroine decided to stay in London and continue living on her own.

Waris got a job at McDonald's, and it was her lucky ticket. She was soon noticed by famous photographer Terence Donovan who invited her to take pictures. The girl was frightened and refused. But he gave her his business card.

2 years later, after a friend’s persuasion, she called the photographer. At 18, her life began to change gradually. Waris became a sought-after model for various famous brands: L'Oreal, Chanel, Revlon. The girl even starred for the Pirelli calendar. People talked about Waris everywhere. She participated in all major shows in Milan, New York, Paris. In just a few years, she built a dazzling modeling career. It seems that everything was fine, but Waris was still concerned about her past. A long time ago, she made herself a promise: not to tell anyone what had happened. Waris was afraid of people’s condemnation.

Once in 1997, Waris was invited to an interview for magazine Marie Claire. This is where she decided to tell everything, and – most importantly – make everything public! This story became something unimaginable, shocking, a real revelation for most of the readers.

Later in her book, Waris shared her challenging experience of creating the bestseller:

Many friends have expressed concern that a religious fanatic will try to kill me when I go to Africa. After all, I’ll be speaking out against a crime many fundamentalists consider a holy practice. I’m sure my work will be dangerous, and I admit to being scared…. But my faith tells me to be strong, that God led me down this path for a reason. He has work for me to do. This is my mission. And I believe that long before the day I was born, God chose the day I will die, so I can’t change that. In the meantime, I might as well take a chance, because that’s what I’ve done all my life.

Luckily, Waris fears weren’t confirmed. Instead of condemnation, people greatly sympathized with her. This inspired Waris, making her abandon her modeling career the same year. Waris became a UN ambassador against female circumcision. A year later, she wrote her first book, Desert Flower, where she spoke honestly about her childhood horrors. Later, she wrote several other books that even became an inspiration for the film in 2009, Desert Flower.

In 2002, Waris established a foundation in Vienna. This organization is designed to draw attention to the dangers associated with female circumcision. Waris has been engaged in humanitarian work up to now. Her main goal is simple:

I feel that God made my body perfect the way I was born. Then man robbed me, took away my power, and left me a cripple. My womanhood was stolen. If God had wanted those body parts missing, why did he create them? 
I just pray that one day no woman will have to experience this pain. It will become a thing of the past. People will say "Did you hear, female genital mutilation has been outlawed in Somalia?" Then the next country, and the next, and so on, until the world is safe for all women. What a happy day that will be, and that's what I'm working toward. In'shallah, if God is willing, it will happen.

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During her entire life, (Waris is 54 now) she had to make a lot of difficult decisions: to escape from her home, to be left alone in a foreign country, to tell the whole world about her horrors. Waris chose not to be ashamed but to talk and act. The woman’s courage helped many countries ban female circumcision. More work in this direction still needs to be done, but Waris is seeing positive results and believes that soon, this tradition will be eliminated.