Jul 15

Desert Children by Waris Dirie

Desert Children

by Waris Dirie

with Corinna Milborne

Translated by Sheelagh Alabaster

(5/5)

Non-Fiction / Memoir
First Published in: 2005
Publisher: Virago

Click here to buy Desert Children by Waris Dirie with free delivery

Book Synopsis:

Desert Children is about Waris Dirie and Corinna Milborn’s investigation into the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in Europe. It is estimated that up to half a million girls and women have undergone or are at risk of FGM in Europe.

Presently, France is the only country that convicts offenders. What’s more the threat of female genital mutilation is not officially recognized by any European country as a reason for asylum.

Waris Dirie was a top model and UN ambassador. Her story, Desert Flower, of growing up in Somalia, enduring FGM at the age of 5, fleeing though the desert and being discovered as a model by Terence Donovan was an international bestseller.

In Dirie’s second book, Desert Dawn, she writes about her experience as a UN Special Ambassador against Female Genital Mutilation, and returning home to her family in Somalia.

In this latest book, Desert Children, reveals the appalling truth of Female Genital Mutilation throughout Europe.

My Book Review:

I picked up this book by chance at the Library Book Fair over the weekend. It’s an eye opening, important read. I’d recommend this book to everyone. Men and women. We need to know what is happening to women all round the world, and we need to do something about it.

This book focusses on Waris Dirie’s research into the practice of Female Genital Mutillation in Europe. You wouldn’t think that FGM is widespread in modern Europe, but unfortunately, thousands of women and girls are at risk of this horrific ‘cultural’ ritual. What’s worse, many of the reasons behind the practice of FGM are complete myths. And these beliefs surrounding FGM are so infuriating in their ignorance, it’s unbelievable. Some women even think that they will be unable to give birth naturally unless they are circumcised. Others want to have their children circumcised in the belief that it will keep the girl pure, that she will be dirty if she is un-cut, that FGM is the only way to find a husband.

This book is an education in the reality of the widespread mutilation that is being inflicted on girls in our world today, and along side this, of the plight of African immigrants to Europe who refuse or are unable to assimilate and embrace the country they have chosen to live in.

We have to have compassion for the women who were cut against their will and without knowledge as girls, but it is these same women who are agreeing either wholeheartedly or through family pressure to have their own children cut.

I was shocked to find out that of all the women worldwide who have undergone FGM, about 15% are infibulated. But in Somalia or Sudan, the figure rises to 99%. Infibulation is a severe form of FGM. It involves ‘cutting out parts or the whole of the genitalia, with subsequent stitching together the opening to leave a tiny hole. In this procedure, usually the inner labia are completely removed and the outer labia are sewn together so that scar tissue covers the entrance to the vagina’. (Taken from WHO’s classification of FGM)

FGM operations are often done without the use of anesthetic.

Victims of FGM are often left with the traumatising memory of the incision, and grave psychological and physical damage. What’s more, the cutting of females is still a taboo subject and is often never talked about between women and especially not with men. This culture of silence firstly leaves women to suffer alone, and secondly without any dialogue, this practice will just keep repeating itself generation after generation, without any assessment on what it is doing to the victims, what it is for and why on earth it is being practiced.

Furthermore, FGM has nothing to do with Islam. ‘Many of the countries that defend the practice mistakenly base their arguments on Islam. But there is no mention of the practice in the whole of the Koran, and certainly no recommendation of it… FGM is a phenomenon that pre-dates Islam.’ (Quote taken from Desert Children)

It is so easy to turn and blind eye and not to interfere because it is a cultural belief. Who are we to question someone else’s traditions? It infuriated me to read what this person wrote on a forum site with the topic of Female Circumcision:

CK: “Whilst being terrible to us remember its part of their culture. One of my friends used to shag a circumcised girl and there was no complaints from either party. Whilst you guys get on your high horse about injustices in the world how about feeding the homeless man you walk past each morning.”

There are so many elements that are exasperating about this apathetic and uninformed remark. And if we remain with this attitude, FGM will never stop. Girls clitoris’s and labia will continue to be cut out everyday.

Culture is not fixed, it inevitably changes over time. The reasons for ritualistic practices often get diluted and change meaning. It is so easy to just follow cultural practices because they are ancient and traditional. Old age does not make a thing moral or right. Blindly following culture has resulted in people unquestioningly cutting out a vital part of their child’s body.

As Kadi, one of the victims that Waris Dirie speaks to in her book, tried to explain to her cousin who is in favour of FGM said: “I’ve tried to tell her that FGM is a bad thing and I’ve told her about the health problems that can result. But only when I told her, “It’s like society deciding it’s better for children to live with just one eye, so they cut the second one out” – that made her stop and think.”

Desert Children will make you stop and  think. Is FGM happening in my own country, in my own neighbourhood?

How can we solve this problem and end the practice of mutilation? I am neither Muslim nor of African descent, and I understand how hard it is for people of other cultures to come butting in on other people’s decisions. This is one of the issues discussed in Desert Children, the difficulty of outsiders to intervene, and also the need for sensitivity in this issue.

But I want to do what I can. If we all take on the attitude of ‘CK’ in the online forum, taking a back seat in the name of culture and remain uninformed and uninvolved, tossing a few coins to the homeless, the mutilation of girls will go on and on.

Upon reading Desert Children, I can’t help but feel the need and the passion for wanting to help and be involved in this fight. To protect other girls and women from suffering this fate. I am now trying to find out what the status of FGM is in Singapore and if there are laws in place to prevent FGM.

Please do leave a comment on this page and tell me what you know or think about this issue. Even if you are for FGM, I’d like to hear your opinions. And if you are against it, what we can do to help end FGM?

x Julie

Online Bookstore and Book Review Site

- Reading Like Rabbits -


Here are some websites I came across about FGM in Singapore:

“Muslim rite is modernized”

- Overview:

1) ‘There are no laws regulating the practice in Singapore’

(Article was published in 2002, I don’t know yet if the laws have changed or not)

2)  ‘In Singapore’s small Muslim community, female circumcision involves nicking the prepuce, the skin covering the clitoris. It is markedly different from the practices of some Muslim communities in Africa and the Middle East decreed by human rights activists as female genital mutilation.’

3) ‘most Muslim women go along with the practice. They say it does not affect sexuality nor cause discomfort.’

What I want to find out is: What exactly is this procedure? Does it really differ from what we call FGM? and Does it really not affect sexuality nor cause discomfort?

Article ‘Female Circumcision’ on Singapore’s AWARE website

- Also, have a look at the video on ‘Labiaplasty’ and though the contents of the video may be disturbing to some viewers, it’s an eye opener to how we, modern women, view our nether regions.

Inside a Female-Circumcision Ceremony

- a slide show of a female circumcision ceremony in Indonesia

Expat Singapore’s discussion forum: Very Sensitive topic – Female Circumcision in Singapore

- People’s discussions, questions and opinions on the issue.

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