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Last Updated: Tuesday, 10 July 2007, 23:23 GMT 00:23 UK
'My mother held me down'
Waris had operations to try to correct the damage
Police in the UK are offering a reward for information leading to the prosecution of anyone involved in the practice of female genital mutilation. Here the Somali-born model Waris Dirie describes her experience.

When Waris was five, her mother held her down on a rock while another woman cut off parts of her genitals with a razor blade.

What remained was sewn up with a coarse thread, with a tiny hole left through which to urinate.

No anaesthetic was used, and Waris' wound subsequently became infected.

The agony she suffered was in part what spurred her to leave the Somali desert community she had grown up in, and escape to London.

But despite an affluent life as a supermodel who travelled the world and the best surgery money can buy to undo the mutilation, Waris says what she went through will never leave her.

"Every day I still struggle to understand why this has happened to me - this cruel and terrible thing for which there is no reason or explanation - whatever they tell you about religion or purity. I can't tell you how angry I feel, how furious it makes me."

Physically, Waris says she is fine - although she will never be able to experience any sexual pleasure there.

"But emotionally, spiritually, there is no escaping from what happened to me."

'A favour'

Waris says she does not blame her mother, whom she is convinced was trying to do the right thing by her daughter in a society which demands girls are still "pure" when they are married off.

You deal with what you've been through and make the best of it, and for me, the campaign is the best I can do

"I'm sure my mother thought she was doing me a favour - and in any case, I don't believe she had much choice. It was a society where what the man says goes - my mother was simply obeying. It was the norm there."

It was when Waris was travelling the world as a model that it became clear that there was so little awareness of that norm.

"No-one had a clue, the world had no idea," she says. "And that was the point where I had to do something, when I threw myself into it."

The woman who went from desert near the Ethiopian border to the catwalks of Milan, London and Paris, has spent the last 11 years trying to spread the word about a practice which is still carried out on an estimated three million girls every year.

"You deal with what you've been through and make the best of it, and for me, the campaign is the best I can do."

Good luck

Waris says there have been positive developments in the decade she has been active.

Several countries have banned the practice. In recent weeks Egypt has announced measures to fully criminalise the procedure, after a 12-year-old girl died.

"There are laws, but people also need to be punished - that still doesn't happen often enough. Schoolgirls need to be checked after the holidays. Everyone needs to be involved."

"But most of all this is something men and women have to work together to stop. The men need to know about it, the consequences of it. They need to talk to their mothers, sisters, daughters.

"But it's not something one person can do something about alone. People ask me: 'How's your work going?' or 'Good Luck with your work!' - and I think, it isn't just my work, this should be everybody's work."

Reversing female circumcision
08 Feb 03 |  Health
Kenyan girls flee mutilation
07 Feb 03 |  Africa

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