February 6: International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation

by Niki Kefala

My interview with Waris Dirie

At least 200 million women and girls alive today have undergone female genital mutilation, with half of them living in Indonesia, Egypt and Ethiopia. The latest figures, provided by Unicef, show nearly 70 million more girls than previously thought have been subjected to ritual cutting.

I met Waris Dirie few years ago, in Thessaloniki. She came to my home town for our film festival, to introduce her film “Desert Flower” based on her own book. A very beautiful woman that amazed me with her strength and the power of her speech. Female genital mutilation (FGM), is still a major problem and no one should forget that.

In a small village in the desert of Somalia, the twelve-year old Waris, escaped from her family, when her father decides to marry her with a seventy year old shepherd. She finds refuge in her grandmother, but ashamed by the behavior of her granddaughter, she sends her to work as a cleaner in the Somali embassy in London, close to some relatives. For the coming years, the young Waris will not go out at all from the embassy, until the day that the civil war breaks out in her country, and all the embassy officials fleeing …

Why did you decide to write a novel based on your life?
I had really done it for a reason, like the movie after the book is made for one reason: the important issue of female genital mutilation, this barbaric ritual that affects millions of women worldwide. I wanted to tell this story, as soon as possible, and the book “Desert Flower” was a way to do it. 


After your motivation, there has been some progress on the issue of female genital mutilation?

Yes, very much progress. The most important thing is that now, the whole world knows and is ready to fight. I am very glad that I did something so great and I could not ask for anything else. Everyday more young people and older people in every corner of the earth, because of the book and the film, they learn to fight. This is a wonderful thing.

It is the way to change all bad things that happens in the world today. If the young people react, then the elderly hope. There is no reason to worry. The most important is that young people are now informed and educated about the problems that exist in the world. They will see the movie, they will read the book, they will get angry and eventually they will do something. And if they can not by themselves, they will fight with all means available to them. They will win and they will be a great role model for the rest. The book and the film changes the way we deal with love. No doubt about it. It will be done! If we sit here and just hope, nothing will happen! There is too much work to do! 

Unfortunately, as revealed by the recent report of UNICEF, Waris Dirie is not the only, nor the last woman who has suffered all this. As the UNICEF’s report concludes, “every day, around 6,000 girls, suffer by the mutilation of genital organs . How long will we close our eyes? ”


What is FGM?

FGM comprises all procedures that involve the partial or total removal or the external female genitalia, or injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. It is recognised internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women.

The practice reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women and girls. It violates their rights to health, security, physical integrity, their right to live a life free from torture and cruel and inhumane treatment and their right to life when the procedures results in death.

According to the World Health Organization, the practice is mostly carried out by traditional circumcisers, who often play other central roles in communities, such as attending childbirths. However, more than 18% of all FGM is performed by healthcare providers – and the trend towards medicalisation is increasing.

What are the health risks?

Immediate dangers include shock, severe pain, haemorrhage, tetanus, infection, urine retention, open sores and damage to other organs such as the anus, urethra and the bladder. There is a high risk of infection or blood poisoning from unsterilised instruments, as well as HIV transmission.

Long-term consequences can include: recurrent bladder and urinary tract infections, cysts, infertility, an increased risk of childbirth complications and newborn deaths and the need for surgeries later in life.



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