Dirie, Waris 1965–

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Dirie, Waris 1965–


Born 1965, in the Gallacaio region of Somalia; partner of Dana Murray (a musician), beginning 1995; children: Aleeke (son).


Home—Vienna, Austria. Agent—William Morrow & Co., Inc., 1350 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10019.


Writer, model, public speaker, philanthropist, and activist. United Nations Population Fund, special ambassador for the elimination of female genital mutilation, 1997—. Waris Dirie Foundation, founder; Desert Dawn Foundation, founder. Appeared in the movie The Living Daylights, 1987.


(With Cathleen Miller) Desert Flower: The Extraordinary Journey of a Desert Nomad, William Morrow (New York, NY), 1998.

Desert Dawn, Virago Press (London, England), 2003.

(With Corinna Milborn) Desert Children, Little, Brown (New York, NY), 2006.

Author's works have been published in eleven languages.


Waris Dirie is a supermodel who was born in Somalia to a nomadic family with twelve children. At age five, Dirie was subjected to female circumcision. This procedure, also termed female genital mutilation (FGM), has been performed routinely on females in various countries, particularly in Africa and the Middle East, although numerous cases are also suspected in the United States. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that at least two million girls are at risk of genital mutilation each year. Eighty percent of mutilations consist of the excision of the clitoris and the labia minora. The more extreme form is infibulation, which is the excision of part or all of the external genitalia and stitching or narrowing of the vaginal opening. The infibulation rate is higher in Djibouti, Sudan, and Somalia, and carries with it a higher rate of complications. Dirie underwent this extreme type of mutilation; her sister and two of her cousins died from complications of the same procedure. Yet in those countries where the practice takes place, it is seen as highly positive, and is often a prerequisite for marriage. "They made it sound so glamorous that I enthusiastically looked forward to it, often impatiently asking my mother when it would take place," Dirie commented to Kwamboka Oyaro in Africa News Service. "But when it happened, it was so painful that it left a big, sick hole in my heart. Yet small girls continue to be wounded by this unnecessary and meaningless practice that only destroys. You gain nothing good; they take the good and leave the bad," Dirie stated.

In recent years, Dirie has begun to speak out in public against the practice of FGM. She has used her own experiences to educate others about the painful plight of women who are circumcised. In 1998, she published an autobiography titled Desert Flower: The Extraordinary Journey of a Desert Nomad, which details her childhood and early teen years in Somalia and the events that led to her success as a high-fashion and advertising model for companies such as Revlon. A number of reviewers were impressed by her story, particularly the way she described the pain caused by her circumcision and later complications. A Kirkus Reviews contributor wrote that Desert Flower "offers extraordinary firsthand insight into FGM …. It is also a well-told and truly engaging autobiography with an old-fashioned, Algeresque appeal." Vanessa Bush, in a Booklist review, also appreciated the discussion of circumcision, commenting that "the most compelling portions of Dirie's story are her graphic portrayals of the practice." A Publishers Weekly critic felt that "it is Dirie's remarkable lack of narcissism or entitlement that makes her so captivating a raconteur." Raye Snover, writing in the New York Times, concluded: "Written with innocence and warmth, this book shows how one woman's tragedy can help others." Desert Flower was published in eleven languages.

Dirie continues to act as a spokesperson against FGM through her testimony, media appearances, and as a special ambassador for the UNFPA, an appointment made on September 18, 1997. In a press release made at that time, the UNFPA said Dirie planned to tour African countries to speak out against the practice and appear in public service announcements and documentary films. Dr. Nafis Sadik, UNFPA Executive Director, commented on the United Nations Population Fund Web site, that Dirie was tapped for the position because "she is a remarkable person and one that other women can look to for inspiration. What is best about her is that she is not some remote figure but one of the people. We hope her courage and the lesson of her life will cause others in traditional cultures to speak out against these terrible practices."

In Desert Children, written with journalist Corinna Milborn, Dirie revisits the topic of FGM, this time from the perspective of women and girls living in European countries. Female Genital Mutilation is not confined to more primitive tribal cultures in Africa and elsewhere, Dirie warns. She notes that more than half a million females in Europe have been subjected to FGM, or are at risk for being forced to endure the procedure. Many of these women, though living in Europe, are isolated from European culture and are unaware of the laws that protect them. They find themselves subject to their husband's authority, much as they would be if they were living in their original homeland. Often, women and girls residing in Europe are taken back to their home countries where the procedure is performed on them. Dirie advocates strongly against the practice, calling for better education of potential victims, health care professionals, and the general public. She encourages European judicial systems toward greater recognition of FGM as a crime, and for increased prosecution and punishment of those who commit it. She encourages religious leaders to speak out against FGM. Dirie also offers resources on FGM for European audiences, including summaries of known facts about the procedure, current European legislation, and organizations that offer help on the issue. Dirie "paints a vivid picture of what FGM does to a woman's body and frequently lets the victims tell in their own words of its devastating physical and psychological effects," noted a Kirkus Reviews contributor.



Dirie, Waris, Desert Flower: The Extraordinary Journey of a Desert Nomad, William Morrow (New York, NY), 1998.


Africa News Service, September 22, 2004, Kwamboka Oyaro, "Supermodel Waris Dirie's Uphill Task," profile of Waris Dirie.

Booklist, September 1, 1998, Vanessa Bush, review of Desert Flower, p. 37.

Europe Intelligence Wire, December 10, 2005, review of Desert Children.

Herizons, winter, 2007, Maggie Mortimer, "How to Stop Female Genital Mutilation," interview with Waris Dirie, p. 23.

Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 1998, review of Desert Flower, p. 1012; March 15, 2006, review of Desert Children, p. 271.

New York Times, January 3, 1999, Raye Snover, review of Desert Flower.

New York Times Magazine, May 9, 1999, Amy Finnerty, "The Way We Live Now: 5-9-99: Questions for Waris Dirie: The Body Politic," interview with Waris Dirie.

Publishers Weekly, August 3, 1998, review of Desert Flower, p. 68.

Somaliland Times, March 4, 2006, review of Desert Children.

Time International, July 15, 2002, Helen Gibson and Waris Dirie, "Somalia's Desert Flower: Supermodel Turned Best-Selling Author Waris Dirie Wants to Alert the World to the Plight of Her Country—and of Millions of Young Women," p. 58.

Times Newspapers of New Zealand, March 1, 2006, review of Desert Children.


United Nations Population Fund Web site,http://www.unfpa.org/ (February 6, 2007).

Waris Dirie Foundation Web site,http://www.waris-dirie-foundation.com/ (February 6, 2007), autobiography of Waris Dirie.