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Waris Dirie
Stories of inspiration from Smart Girl Stories across the globe. Waris Dirie: Somalian Model, Author, and Human Rights Activist

Waris Dirie: Somalian Model, Author, and Human Rights Activist

Waris Dirie has one of the most inspiring stories so far. Despite being genitally mutilated and forced into an arranged marriage at a very young age, Dirie was able to run away from this oppressive culture and make it big in runway fashion.

But she is much more than just a pretty face. Dirie now helps other victims get help and regain their self-esteem and confidence as women. She is an inspiration for women’s rights and one of our top Smart Girls!

Early Life

Waris Dirie was born in the 1960s into a nomadic family. She is one of the twelve children in her family. At age five, Waris was genitally mutilated, a cruel rite of passage in her community. At fifteen years of age, Dirie fled her home through the desert to Mogadishu after finding out she would be married off to a 60-year-old man. She went on to live with some of her relatives in Somalia, but her escape was not tolerated.

Dirie was lucky to relocate to the UK after her uncle, who was then the Somali ambassador to the UK, decided to take her abroad to be his maid. After his term in office was done, Dirie had to live in unstable housing arrangements while she worked as a cleaner at a McDonalds. She also began taking English lessons to be able to speak fluently.

Career in Modelling

At age 18 Dirie was discovered by a photographer who managed to persuade her to model for him. The photographer helped her create a modeling portfolio, but many modeling agencies could not take her on because she was black.

In 1987 Dirie was finally able to work for Terence Donovan, who photographed her together with Naomi Campbell for the title of Pirelli Calendar. From that moment forward, Dirie’s career took off and soon she became a successful model appearing for top fashion houses like Chanel, Revlon, and Levis.

In the same year, she played a minor role in the James Bond film The Living Daylights. She went on to appear on various runways for top brands and even did a documentary for BBC about her modeling career. In 1997, Dirie spoke openly in Marie Claire Magazine about the female genital mutilation (FGM) she had undergone as a child. That same year Dirie became a UN envoy for the abolition of FGM. She would later go back to Somalia.

In 1998 Dirie released her first book, Desert Flower, an autobiography that became an international bestseller. Most of her later releases were launched to campaign against Female Genital Mutilation.

In 2010 she was appointed Ambassador of Peace and Security in Africa by the African Union.

Humanitarian Work

In 2002 Waris Dirie founded the Desert Flower Foundation, whose aim was to raise funds for the sensitization of the world against FGM and to help its victims. She was also a founding member of various women’s groups and organizations that support sustainable development and conservation. Dirie has been involved in many European projects to help rehabilitate FGM victims and provide counseling and medical care.

She has also been keen on education projects in Africa, and through her campaigns like ‘Save a Little Desert Flower, ’ Dirie and her team were able to save 1000 girls from the cruel practice of FGM in Sierra Leone. The team also constructed schools in Sierra Leone to build a safe house where FGM victims could find refuge and protection. The center is also equipped with a library and computers to help women with education.

Awards

Dirie has received a lot of awards for her fight against FGM that she herself went through. In 2000, she was named the Woman of the Year by Glamour magazine, and in 2010 she received the Gold Medal of the President of the Republic of Italy for her achievements as a human rights activist among many other awards.

Personal Life

Dirie is a mother of two sons, Aleeke and Leon. She currently lives in Gdansk, Poland. Dirie continues to be an inspiration to women through her continued work for women’s rights. She is today’s Smart Girl, and we hope to help spread information about the wonderful work Dirie has done for girls in Sierra Leone and other places around the world.

Learn about more inspiring girls on our Smart Girls page, or follow our Instagram page for more stories like this!

Hannah

Hannah

Founder, Smart Girl, Survivor, Champion of womens rights and kids rights

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