Desert Flower

October 3, 2009 at 2:16 pm (News) (, , , , , , , )

0688172377.01.LZZZZZZZI recently picked up Desert Flower – The Extraordinary Journey of a Desert Nomad after finding out a German filmmaker had managed to snag the rights to it. I had heard of it before, but seeing as I only recently officially came into being a snot-nosed feminist, it hadn’t occurred to me to read it.

Waris Dirie’s story is at once heart-breaking and inspiring. One of twelve children, she was born into a Somalian pastoral nomad family and raised in the deserts among those goats and camels. With no ability to read, write or speak a language beside Somali, she didn’t seem to be destined for great things. In fact, she was rather average for a young Somalian female. She tended goats, played with her siblings, had no shoes or education. Like every girl she was expected to marry whoever her father wished in exchange for more camels.

And like every other girl, she was subjected to the awful, awful practice of female genital mutilation when she was only five years old.

Waris Dirie is now a renown supermodel and UN special ambassador for the elimination of FGM. While I read this book, it felt like a small part of me died when I came across her experiences with FGM. When she was five, her mother woke her in the early morning before anyone else was awake and taken out to the bushes where the “gypsy woman,” as she was referred to, waited for them. Dirie was given a root to bite down on and held down by her mother. The gypsy woman herself used a razor stained with the blood of countless other young, helpless girls that this woman cleaned with her saliva and nothing else.

By African standards, this is relatively cleanly, apparently. Anything can be used – razors, glass, sharp rocks and when nothing else is to be had, teeth. The severity of the mutilation ranges from the removal of the clitoral hood to the full on removal of the labia majora, minora and everything else, then the girls are sewn shut. Dirie experienced the latter form – thorns from a nearby bush were used to create punctures for the sewing. After this, Dirie’s legs were bound together in order to create a minimal, “tidy” scar and she was left in a specially built hut to heal for a whole month.

Many girls die from blood loss, tetanus, infection, gangrene and other horrific side-effects of the “operation,” which include pelvic infections, severe UTIs and more. One of Dirie’s sisters bled to death. Dirie herself suffered for many years because she was left with only a small hole through which urine and menstrual blood were supposed to be allowed to escape. She was able to get surgery later in life, but will never regain much of the feeling in that region of her body because the surgery was performed back in the 90s. Nowadays, with medical advances, there are doctors who specialize in reconstructive surgery in order to help women regain feeling and a sense of pride in their bodies again.

I remember being in an Ethics class and the topic of FGM coming up. I argued against it because I feel, as a woman, that it is a cruel, unnecessary and awful tradition to uphold that gives a whole continent a bad reputation. I was told my Western privilege was showing – that it was necessary to approach some traditions with respect and the dignity it deserves because – while it is not my own culture – it is someone else’s cultural practice.

I call bullshit on that. I agree that the Western way is not always the right way, but I see no reason to accept a practice that is so barbaric. Many of the cultures FGM is practiced in are Muslim; men argue that the Q’ran demands it. Nowhere in the Q’ran does it state that you are to maim and brutalize your women. FGM – I refuse to deign it with the term “female circumcision” because it undercuts the severity of what is done – was invented by men in order to oppress women and make them pliable through their pain. Those who argue that male circumcision is equally cruel – what on Earth are you thinking? We do not cut off young boys’ penises. We don’t divorce them from their sexual organs in order to oppress them. There is a vast difference between a small surgical procedure in which the foreskin is removed and the hacking off and permanent crippling of young defenseless girls.

It makes me sick to my stomach that around 2 MILLION girls a year are at risk of being victims of FGM. I hope that, through education and redirection of practices, it will be possible to decrease and maybe eliminate the practice entirely, though it will take a long time. Meanwhile, here is the trailer to Desert Flower where Dirie is played by Liya Kebede:

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