“You’re not cut?” Waris Dirie, a Somali woman featured in Sherry Hormann’s Desert Flower (2011) looked bewildered. Hormann illustrates the episode of Waris’ life as a Somali woman who had no choice but to go through the sufferings of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). As the Somalian culture for womenis to go through the unnecessary pain of circumcision, she had undergone the same as well.
Desert Flower is based on a true story. Growing up in Somalia, Waris had to go through the ritual of FGM when she was five. Even worse, she had an impending marriage with an old man. Trying to escape from this reality, she was able to get a chance to fly to London with her relatives’ help. Her life was dark in London, full of troubles, until she met a photographer who helped her become a renowned supermodel. Following her fame came the opportunity for an interview where she was able to bring up her life as “a circumcised woman.”
Although the story of the movie might seem to be focused on the overcoming of a girl and her lifechanging experience as a model, the actual issue people should consider throughout the movie is FGM. In the film, Waris had undergone the circumcision when she was little. She thought the ritual was something natural, since her sisters and all the other women had done the same thing. Living in the society where circumcision is thought to be part of the culture as a woman, she illustrates the atrocious process of genital mutilation. According to WHO, FGM is common as much as 98 percent in Somalia. The similar number applies to many African and Middle Eastern countries. The prevalence of FGM clearly shows the high risk of women facing these rituals. The issue should not be concerned as remote events happening far from our society.
FGM is a removal of female clitoris for nonmedical and cultural reasons, symbolizing purity and cleanliness of women. It takes place in the name of tradition and culture. However, traditional culture is not a magic word that has indulgence on continuing the bad customs. In order to bring a change in our society, there are two levels of solution to consider: individual level and international level.
Because it is believed as part of their culture, the circumcised women are considered “normal” whereas the have-nots appear to be “unclean and shameful.” Nevertheless, it is necessary for the haves and havenots to stop accepting this cruel reality but should fight against to the wrongdoings. If all individuals conformed to such actions, there would be no change in this world. That is why women like Waris Dirie in this movie empowered the whole world on the issue of FGM. As individuals speak up one by one, more and more people will be concerned with the issue, and perhaps the adoption of international laws against the circumcision will be achieved.
Along with the increasing concerns of gender equality through Sustainable Development Goals nowadays, the issues regarding FGM would get much of the attention as well. Eventually, the international criticism would spread across the globe. The nations that hold such absurd traditions will go in decline gradually. With the enforcement of nudge from the United Nations, the nations will hopefully reflect themselves on trying to meet the SDGs as all the other countries.
The lives of women are their own. Each individual has the right to freedom, right to privacy, and their right to everything. Under the question of “Why does FGM exist?”, the culture and tradition can never be an answer. Should we give up the necessary for the unnecessary? Never.