Waris Dirie

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Waris Dirie, during her visit to Sierra Leone (West Africa) in December 2018.
Waris Dirie, during her visit to Sierra Leone (West Africa) in December 2018.

Waris Dirie (* 1965 in the region of Gaalkacyo, Somalia ) is an Austrian model , a best-selling author and human rights activist in the fight against female genital mutilation ( Female Genital Mutilation , FGM). From 1997 to 2003 she was the UN special envoy against female genital cutting. In 2002 she founded her own organization, the Desert Flower Foundation .


First years

Waris Dirie comes from a Muslim, ethnic group of Somali belonging to nomadic family that the clan of Darod counts. Waris means "desert flower". Your date of birth is unknown; the year of birth, usually given as 1965, is not used.

As a five-year-old she herself suffered genital cutting in the form of infibulation . When she was about to be married to an old man at the age of 13, she fled through the desert to the capital of Somalia , Mogadishu , to meet her maternal grandmother who lived there. Later she lived with an aunt in Mogadishu.

In 1981 she was told that she could no longer stay with her relatives in Mogadishu because her escape from the desert was not tolerated. One of her uncles, who was Somali ambassador to the United Kingdom at the time, was looking for a maid. So she was brought to London and worked in the Somali embassy without pay. When the uncle had to leave London after the outbreak of the civil war in Somalia, Waris fled the embassy and lived first in the streets of London, later in a home of the YMCA . She made her living as a cleaner in a McDonald's branch.


At the age of 18, Dirie's life changed abruptly when she was accidentally discovered by the English photographer Terence Donovan . He photographed her in 1987 with the then unknown model Naomi Campbell for the front page of the Pirelli calendar . Dirie became a sought-after and highly paid top model overnight. She worked for Chanel , L'Oréal , Revlon , Versace , Cartier , Levi's and many other world brands. Her picture appeared on the cover of Vogue magazine and numerous other glossy magazines.

In 1987 she appeared in the James Bond film The Living Daylights (as Waris Walsh). Eventually she worked on the catwalks in London , Milan , Paris and New York . In 1995 the BBC made the documentary " A Nomad in New York" about her extraordinary career.

In 1997, at the height of her modeling career, Waris Dirie first reported to the journalist Laura Ziv for the Marie Claire magazine about the trauma of her circumcision, triggering worldwide media coverage. In the same year she became a UN special envoy against female genital mutilation .

Also in 1997 she visited her mother and in 2000 her family in Somalia, which was meanwhile plagued by civil war .

In 1998 Dirie published the book Wüstenblume (original title: Desert Flower ) together with the author Cathleen Miller , in which she tells, among other things, of her radical circumcision. Due to her fame, she managed to draw attention to this topic worldwide. In 1998 the US readers of Glamor magazine voted them Woman of the Year. In 1999 Dirie received the German Federal Government's Africa Prize for her services to the rights of African women.

In 2001, her second book, nomad daughter (original title: Desert Dawn ) appeared, for which she and Paulo Coelho received the Corine Award for best-selling book in Germany in 2002. In 2005, Children of Sorrows appeared , for which Dirie and a team did secret research in African communities in Europe's capitals for two years. With the book she started a Europe-wide campaign against FGM. In 2007, Letter to My Mother was published, another bestseller.

In 2002 Dirie founded the Desert Flower Foundation in Vienna . The organization collects donations to raise awareness of the global problem of FGM and to help those affected. In 2004, Mikhail Gorbachev presented her with the World Social Award at the Women's World Award Gala in Hamburg .

In the same year she opened the world conference against FGM in Nairobi , gave a widely acclaimed speech and published the Waris Dirie Manifesto against FGM for the first time . The Austrian Federal President Heinz Fischer awarded her the Romero Prize on behalf of the Catholic Men's Movement in Austria . In March 2005, Waris Dirie was granted Austrian citizenship .

In January 2006 Dirie addressed the assembled ministers of all EU member states in Brussels. The European Union then put the fight against female genital mutilation on its agenda. After that, laws were tightened in many European countries and preventive measures were initiated. In 2007 Waris Dirie launched a campaign against FGM in the UK with Scotland Yard and the BBC .

On July 12, 2007, the then French President Nicolas Sarkozy honored Waris Dirie as the first woman after his inauguration as Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur for her services in the struggle for women's rights .

In September 2007, Waris Dirie received the Prix ​​des Générations of the World Demographic Association from the hands of the President of the Swiss Parliament, Christine Egerszegi-Obrist . In the same year she was awarded the Martin Buber plaque of the Euriade . The Arab broadcaster Al Jazeera invited Dirie to the popular talk show by Riz Khan . She spoke for the first time on an Arab broadcaster in front of over 100 million viewers on the taboo subject of "female genital mutilation". Another educational program about FGM followed with direction for young people on the Pan Arabic Youth Channel.

In March 2008, the EU again invited Waris Dirie to give a lecture at the EU Parliament in Brussels, and a meeting with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was scheduled. The night before her speech, on March 4, 2008, Waris Dirie disappeared without a trace and sparked a major manhunt by the Belgian police. On the evening of March 7th, 2008, a police officer recognized her near the Grand-Place / Grote Markt in Brussels. She initially stated that she had not found her hotel again. However, on March 10, her lawyer announced that she had been kidnapped and attempted rape by a taxi driver.

In April 2008, filming of the film adaptation of her bestseller Desert Flower in Djibouti began under the direction of Sherry Hormann . Other locations were New York , London , Berlin and Cologne . The film was produced by Oscar winner Peter Herrmann , Benjamin Herrmann and Waris Dirie were co-producers, and the leading role was played by the Ethiopian model Liya Kebede . Sally Hawkins , Juliet Stevenson , Timothy Spall , Meera Syal and Craig Parkinson can also be seen in other roles . In September 2009 the film Desert Flower was released . The film reached over one million cinema-goers in Germany and its producer was awarded the Bavarian Film Prize. Dirie traveled to the shooting at the invitation of the President of Djibouti and gave a speech on FGM before the Council of Ministers and MPs.

In January 2009 Waris Dirie became a founding member of the PPR Foundation for Women's Dignity and Rights , which François-Henri Pinault (CEO of PPR ) set up with his wife, Hollywood actress Salma Hayek in Paris.

In July 2010 Dirie was appointed Ambassador for Peace and Security in Africa of the African Union (AU). In October 2010 Dirie was awarded the gold medal of the President of the Republic of Italy in Rimini.

In 2011 she was a member of the jury that selected the universal logo for human rights .

Waris Dirie has two sons (Aleeke, Leon). She has lived in Gdansk since 2009 ; temporarily also in Vienna . Their younger son Leon was born in Vienna.

Unlike female genital mutilation, it rates circumcision . Waris Dirie commented on the circumcision of her son as follows:

“We had Aleeke circumcised in the hospital the day after he was born. This is very different from female genital mutilation; it should never be called mutilation because it is not. In men, it is done for medical reasons to ensure cleanliness. I heard Aleeke scream when they did, but he stopped the instant I hugged him. Despite my intense feelings about FGM, I know that what we did was the right thing to do. My son has a beautiful penis. It looks so good and so clean. "

Humanitarian work


Waris Dirie used numerous campaigns to draw attention to the brutal ritual of female genital mutilation. In 2010 with the "Stop FGM Now" initiative in cooperation with the Berlin agency Heymann Brandt de Gelmini. The campaign is awarded the prize for the "Best NGO Social Media Campaign" from the German Federal Government.

In 2011 there was a cooperation with the Hamburg agency Jung von Matt and the underwear label Mey for "Together for African Women".

In 2014, after the rescue of "desert flower" Safa (see book Safa, the rescue of the small desert flower ), the sponsorship program "Save a small desert flower" was launched with the agency YELL (Hamburg).

The "End FGM" campaign followed in March 2019 together with the British lingerie label Coco de Mer . Dirie posed for the company's iconic collection (as the successor to Pamela Anderson ) and was shot by British star photographer Rankin . Rankin also produced the short film for the campaign. The initiative was awarded the if Social Impact Prize 2019 by the iF International Forum Design headquartered in Hanover (GER) and supported with prize money.

For Waris Dirie, the photo shoot with Rankin in London was a comeback as a model.

Desert Flower Center

On September 11, 2013, Waris Dirie opened the world's first holistic medical center for the treatment and care of FGM victims with the Waldfriede Hospital as a cooperation hospital of the Desert Flower Foundation in Berlin . The Desert Flower Center was awarded the Louise Schroeder Medal in 2016 by the State of Berlin .

In 2014 the Desert Flower Surgical Training Center for surgeons, gynecologists, urologists and nursing staff was set up in Amsterdam together with the Desert Flower Foundation BENELUX.

The Desert Flower Center Scandinavia has existed in cooperation with the Karolinska University Hospital in Stockholm since 2015 .

In 2017 the Center Fleur du Desert and Fondation Fleur du Desert opened at the Hôpital Delafontaine in Paris Saint-Denis. The facility was visited by French President Emmanuel Macron in December 2017 .

Educational projects in Sierra Leone (West Africa)

In 2016, Waris Dirie and the Desert Flower Foundation team made the decision to make "Education in Africa" ​​the focus of their work. Through the sponsorship project "Save a small desert flower", 1,000 girls were saved from FGM in Sierra Leone alone.

At the beginning of 2019 the construction of the first three "Desert Flower Schools" in Sierra Leone was announced. Furthermore, the Diries Desert Flower Foundation established a "Safe House" in which FGM victims find refuge and protection. There is also a library and a computer center. In addition, 10,000 pieces of Dirie's reading book "My Africa - The Journey" with Desert Flower educational boxes will be distributed to 34 schools in Sierra Leone.

Honourings and prices

  • German Africa Prize of the German Africa Foundation , 1999
  • Glamor magazine's Woman Of The Year Award , 2000
  • Corine 2002 for her book Nomads Daughter
  • World Social Award of the Women's World Awards , presented by Mikhail Gorbatschow in Hamburg, 2004
  • Romero Prize , 2004
  • Prix ​​des Générations 2007 of the World Demographic Association
  • Appointment as Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur by French President Nicolas Sarkozy , 2007
  • Martin Buber plaque from Stichting Euriade , 2008
  • Gold Medal of the President of the Republic of Italy, 2010
  • Thomas Dehler Prize of the Thomas Dehler Foundation , presented by Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger , 2013
  • Woman Of The Year Campaigning Award in London presented by Sacla, 2013
  • International Freedom Prize presented in the House of Lords in London by British Minister Lynne Featherstone , 2014
  • Women for Women Award, awarded in Vienna by the magazine “look!”, 2017
  • Donna dell'Anno 2018 in Italy
  • One Milllion Chances Award donated by the Fritz Henkel Foundation, 2018
  • Sunhak Peace Prize for her commitment to women's rights, awarded in Seoul (South Korea), 2019


The book, which describes Dirie's genital circumcision, her adventurous escape through the Somali desert and the rise to a world-famous supermodel, becomes an international bestseller and appears in over 50 licensed editions. To date, over 11 million copies have been sold worldwide, 3 million in Germany alone ( No. 1 on the Spiegel bestseller list from January 11th to 17th and from January 25th to July 18th, 1999 ).
Twenty years after her escape, Waris decides to visit her family in Somalia. An adventurous undertaking, because Somalia has been plagued by civil war and famine for years. Her second book, which is also an international bestseller ( number 1 on the Spiegel bestseller list from April 8th to 28th and from May 13th to June 23rd, 2002 ) describes the journey to her home country.
With her third book, Waris Dirie starts a Europe-wide campaign against FGM. Genital mutilation is not only practiced in Africa, but also in the western world. She reports on encounters with victims and perpetrators, on her research, setbacks and successes.
Waris Dirie about the book Letter to My Mother on the Desert Flower Foundation website : “This is my most personal book. There are just wounds that don't want to heal. I longed to meet my mother again, to forgive my mother, but I had to recognize that love and suffering are often inextricably linked. Working on this book was a painful, but vital experience for me. "
In this book, Waris Dirie tells of her life in her new, white homeland - and of her longing for Africa and the deep desire to help her home continent to free herself from poverty, traditional traditions and dependency.
  • Safa, the rescue of the little desert flower. Knaur Verlag, 2013, ISBN 978-3-426-65534-4 Little Safa comes from a desperately poor family in Djibouti. Growing up in a slum, she was selected for the role of little Waris Dirie in the film adaptation of the world bestseller Desert Flower . The dramatic scene in which the little girl is violently genitally circumcised makes people cry in cinemas around the world. In real life, Safa is still unharmed. Waris Dirie is all the more appalled when she learns that her mutilation is imminent. And she does everything possible to save the girl from this cruel fate.
  • My Africa - The Journey . Vienna 2017, Desert Flower Foundation. Waris Dirie and the Desert Flower Foundation team publish their first learning book for children in African schools. The book tells the story of the little desert flower Waris and her brother Mo, who go on a journey together to discover their home continent Africa. On their adventures, they get to know the flora and fauna of Africa. In addition to the story, the book also contains numerous writing exercises designed to promote children's literacy. My Africa - The Journey is distributed free of charge in a so-called education box to African schools. Waris Dirie: “It's about giving the children in Africa books, pens and other school materials to learn to read and write. For us this is just a small thing. But it makes a big difference for the children in Africa. "


The musical "Desert Flower" tells Waris Dirie's touching life story

On March 7, 2019, in the presence of Waris Dirie , it was announced at a press conference in the Theater St. Gallen , Switzerland, that her moving life story will be turned into a musical. The script and direction for this come from the German theater and film director Gil Mehmert (who turned Sönke Wortmann's film The Miracle of Bern into a musical, Hamburg 2014). The lyrics are from Frank Ramond. The music is provided by producer and composer Uwe Fahrenkrog-Petersen (who wrote the music for 99 Luftballons , Irgendwie, Irgendwo, Irgendwann by Nena ). On February 22nd, 2020 the time had come: the musical Wüstenblume was premiered in the presence of Waris Dirie at the St. Gallen Theater. After the bestseller book (1998) and film (2009), her life story is also on the theater stage.

Web links

Commons : Waris Dirie  - Collection of Images

Individual evidence

  1. Helen Gibson: Somalia's Desert Flower . In: Time . July 7, 2002
  2. Desert flower Waris Dirie: "Could embrace the world" . In: Austria . February 6, 2009
  3. Waris Dirie: Desert Flower, p. 66.
  4. UNECA : Fighting the Culture of Discrimination ( Memento of July 6, 2010 in the Internet Archive ). 1998
  5. ORF : Female Genital Mutilation - special ( Memento from August 21, 2011 in the Internet Archive )
  6. A girl is genitally mutilated every 11 seconds. ( Memento from May 19, 2012 in the Internet Archive ) Website of the sponsorship project Save a Little Desert Flower , an initiative of the Desert Flower Foundation, accessed on January 16, 2016.
  7. Dirie's new citizenship . n-tv .de, March 22, 2005, accessed on March 16, 2018.
  8. European Commission : Participation of Benita Ferrero-Waldner and Vladimír Spidla, Members of the EC, to the conference "Joint Action of Member States against Harmful Traditional Practices"
  9. ^ Bounty for illegal circumcision in London . In: The press . July 11, 2007
  10. Présidence de la République: Allocution à l'occasion de la remise collective de décorations ( Memento of November 6, 2011 in the Internet Archive ). July 12, 2007
  11. Euriade: Award of the Martin Buber plaque
  12. Al Jazeera Deutsch : Riz Khan- FGM Waris Dirie- 02 August 07 . Video on YouTube . August 3, 2007 (16:24 min)
  13. Ex-model Waris Dirie found in Brussels . In: USA Today , March 7, 2008.
  14. Mysterious disappearance: Dirie's manager speaks of attempted rape . In: Spiegel Online , March 10, 2008.
  15. Barbara Hans: Mysterious case of Waris Dirie: “She didn't beat herself” . In: Spiegel Online , March 12, 2008.
  16. Jana Simon : Portrait: "I'm not here to please others" . In: The time . No. 29, July 10, 2008
  17. PPR: PPR creates a Corporate Foundation for Women's Dignity and Rights . February 13, 2009
  18. Make Peace Happen: Peace Ambassadors ( Memento of the original from November 16, 2016 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link has been inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. . September 6, 2010  @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / www.makepeacehappen.net
  19. Centro Pio Manzù: Waris Dirie ( Memento from June 6, 2015 in the Internet Archive )
  20. ^ The Universal Logo For Human Rights: The Jury
  21. Monika Kotowska: Waris Dirie: "Nikt mnie nie uciszy" ( Memento from August 30, 2012 in the Internet Archive ) (German: I will not be silenced ), In: Party.pl , after Viva! , February 16, 2010, Polish, accessed January 16, 2016
  22. Waris Dirie: kocham Gdańsk, ale tęsknię za moją pustynią (German: I love Danzig, but I miss my desert ), Onet.moda, March 28, 2012, in Polish, accessed on January 16, 2015
  23. "We had Aleeke circumcised in the hospital a day after he was born. This is very different from female genital mutilation; that should never even be called circumcision - it's not. In males it's done for medical reasons - to ensure cleanliness. I could hear Aleeke crying when they did it, but he stopped as soon as I held him. Despite my strong feelings about FGM, I knew it was the right thing to do. My son has a beautiful penis. It looks so good and so clean. "Quoted from: Chantal J. Zabus: Between Rites and Rights. Excision in Women's Experiential Texts and Human Contexts, p. 197
  24. Heymann Brandt De Gelmini campaigns against genital mutilation. Retrieved September 9, 2019 .
  25. "Desert Flower" author Waris Dirie presents lingerie for Mey. Retrieved September 9, 2019 .
  26. Waris Dirie fights against genital mutilation with her new Rankin campaign. Retrieved September 9, 2019 (German).
  27. Huberta von Voss: Waris Dirie on the fight against genital mutilation . March 16, 2019 ( welt.de [accessed September 9, 2019]).
  28. ^ Waris Dirie, Coco de Mer, and Rankin Are Fighting for Women's Rights. March 7, 2019, Retrieved September 9, 2019 (American English).
  29. Sally Williams: The fashion issue: model Waris Dirie on her FGM campaign and her own exile . March 9, 2019, ISSN  0140-0460 ( thetimes.co.uk [accessed September 9, 2019]).
  30. ^ Waris Dirie: Waris Dirie: Europe's FGM rates are rising and we must fight it. March 12, 2019, Retrieved September 9, 2019 (UK English).
  31. Supported by iF projects 2019. Retrieved on September 10, 2019 (English).
  32. ^ Bernhard.praschl: Comeback of Waris Dirie: Musical and lingerie in the name of the "desert flower". Retrieved September 9, 2019 .
  33. Waldfriede Hospital NEWS! Female genital mutilation - a global problem ( Memento from March 4, 2016 in the Internet Archive ), press release, Waldfiede Hospital, September 9, 2015, accessed on January 16, 2016
  34. First Desert Flower Center opens in Berlin ( Memento from December 18, 2013 in the Internet Archive )
  35. ^ Louise Schroeder Medal 2016 . Berlin House of Representatives , March 9, 2016, accessed on June 9, 2017.
  36. Great honor: French President Macron visits Desert Flower Center! - Desert Flower Foundation. Retrieved September 9, 2019 .
  37. ^ Desert Flower Foundation increases global awareness about FGM, makes impact in West Africa. In: Globe Afrique - Africa and World News. Retrieved September 9, 2019 (American English).
  38. School education instead of circumcision of little girls - Desert Flower Foundation. Retrieved September 9, 2019 .
  39. First "Desert Flower School" as the centerpiece of our educational initiative - Desert Flower Foundation. Retrieved September 9, 2019 .
  40. ^ Wieczorek-Zeul: 6000 women are mutilated every day . In: Spiegel Online . January 13, 2000
  41. German Africa Foundation: German Africa Prize: Previous winners  ( page no longer available , search in web archivesInfo: The link was automatically marked as defective. Please check the link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. (PDF; 1.1 MB). @1@ 2Template: Toter Link / www.deutsche-afrika-stiftung.de  2011
  42. Women with Influence. June 9, 2004, accessed September 9, 2019 .
  43. World Demographic Association: Prix ​​des Générations 2007 ( Memento of July 28, 2007 in the Internet Archive )
  44. Karin Fagetti: "Who, if not her" . In: St. Galler Tagblatt from September 10, 2007
  45. «Thomas Dehler Prize 2013 goes to Waris Dirie» . In: The press . July 8, 2013
  46. Ex-supermodel Waris Dirie says FGM can end in her lifetime . In: Reuters . January 29, 2015 ( reuters.com [accessed September 9, 2019]).
  47. ^ "Also a problem in Austria": Fighter for the rights of girls. November 29, 2017. Retrieved September 9, 2019 .
  48. Waris Dirie, Isoke Aikpitanyi e Margarita Meira: sono tre le Donne dell'anno 2018 - La Stampa. March 16, 2018, accessed September 9, 2019 (it-IT).
  49. Paulina Meissner: Schwarzkopf "Million Chances Award": "Desert Flower" Waris Dirie receives the award. November 7, 2018, accessed on September 9, 2019 (German).
  50. The Sunhak Peace Prize held in Seoul for 2019 was awarded to Akinwumi Ayodeji Adesina and Waris Dirie. Retrieved September 9, 2019 .
  51. ^ Waris Dirie presents "My Africa-The Journey" in Vienna. Retrieved September 9, 2019 .
  52. New musical in St. Gallen. March 7, 2019, accessed September 9, 2019 .
  53. Süddeutsche Zeitung: Goosebumps moments in the musical "Desert Flower". Retrieved February 25, 2020 .
  54. ^ "Desert flower" - Waris Dirie's life as a musical in St. Gallen. Retrieved February 25, 2020 .
  55. Christa Dietrich: "Desert Flower", a good musical with an important message. Retrieved February 25, 2020 .
  56. Martin Preisser: Acclaimed musical premiere in St.Gallen: The never-forgotten pain. Retrieved February 25, 2020 .
  57. The "desert flower" also blooms as a musical. Retrieved February 25, 2020 .