Waris Dirie Jones (b. in 1965) , is a former Somali supermodel , writer and a voice for millions that have none when she became a United Nations advocate for the abolition of female genital mutilation.
Having in her lifetime gone from Somalian nomad to international supermodel, Waris Dirie continued in 2000 to exert her influence as an activist in the fight against female genital mutilation (FGM; also called female circumcision). The statuesque model, who had undergone the procedure at about age five, overcame personal and cultural barriers to speak openly about it during a 1996 magazine interview. Her celebrity status helped to catapult the topic into the public eye, and in 1997, Kofi Annan then UN Secretary General appointed her the United Nations Population Fund’s special ambassador for the elimination of FGM. In this capacity she traveled and spoke extensively, vigorously pursuing her goal of preventing future generations of women from suffering as she had.
The World Health Organization estimated that more than 130 million girls and women had undergone some form of FGM. While it was also performed in the Middle East and Asia, FGM was most prevalent in Africa; in Dirie’s native Somalia the procedure was performed on an estimated 98% of women. Dirie experienced the most extreme form, called infibulation, in which all or part of the external genitalia is cut off and the vagina stitched up, with only a small, and often insufficient, opening left for the passage of bodily fluids. Dirie’s procedure was performed under primitive and unsanitary conditions without anesthesia, and she was forced to endure excruciating pain and both short- and long-term complications.
Dirie was one of 12 children born in the Somalian desert into a large nomadic family. She was probably born sometime in the late 1960s, but her exact age was unknown, as no birth records were kept. Much of her childhood was focused on tending to the family’s herd and obtaining enough food and water to survive. She ran away from home in her early teens to avoid an arranged marriage, embarking on a long and treacherous journey that took her through the desert to Mogadishu and from there eventually to London to serve as a maid in the home of an uncle who was beginning a term as an ambassador there. When his tenure ended, Dirie elected to stay in London illegally. She was illiterate, but she found work in the kitchen at a fast-food restaurant and a room at the YMCA, and she took classes to learn to read and write English. In 1983 she contacted a photographer who had earlier approached her on the street about modeling. The photos he took launched her career, and she went on to appear on the runways of Paris, Milan, and New York and in top fashion magazines such as Elle, Glamour, and Vogue. She recounted her dramatic transformation, as well as her experience with FGM, in her autobiography Desert Flower: The Extraordinary Journey of a Desert Nomad (1998).
Through her international best-sellers Desert Flower,Desert Dawn and Desert Children, Dirie succeeded in bringing the topic of genital mutilation onto the global agenda. In 2002, she created the Vienna-based Waris Dirie Foundation through which she fights globally for her cause.
UNICEF estimations go as far as to claim that about 3 million girls each year in Africa, Asia, the USA, Australia and Europe suffer genital mutilation and that as many as 160 million women globally have been subjected to this tragic and brutal experience. Many of these victims suffer throughout their entire life from the physical and psychological consequences of these practices.
Waris Dirie was awarded the "Prix des Générations 2007" in St. Gallen/Switzerland. The UN Special Ambassador against the genital mutilation of women received this award in recognition of her engagement for the well-being of younger generations and her fight against Female Genital Mutilation.
The World Demographic Association (WDA) awards the "Prix des Générations" annually to an international personality whose contributionon behalf of future generations has been outstanding.
In July 2007, the French President Nicolas Sarkozy gives the medal of Knight "de la Légion d'Honneur" to Waris Dirie for her humanitarian work.
Found alive in Brussels.
March 5, 2008, Waris Dirie disappeared in Brussels and she was found by police 3 days after. She was found hours after police announced they were launching a nationwide search for her. She had last been seen getting into a cab after a mix-up over a hotel in the early hours of Wednesday.
Her disappearance comes a week after French police said they had found the body of another former model of African origin who had campaigned against female genital mutilation. Guinean-born Katoucha Niane was discovered floating in the River Seine in Paris.
2010: Film based upon her book "Desert Flower" is the true story of Waris Dirie. She fled Somalia to avoid a forced marriage in her early teens and having suffered all kinds of indignities in London, finally became a model. At the height of her career she publically announced that as a child she had been circumcised – and subsequently gave up her top model career to campaign against FGM (female genitale mutilation) which is carried out against 6,000 girls and women worldwide every day.
In the lead role Ethiopian Top model Liya Kebede as Waris Dirie and stars in supporting roles include Sally Hawkins, Juliet Stevenson and the glorious Timothy Spall. The film was warmly received when it was premiered out of competition at the Venice Film Festival.