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Sacla’ Women of the Year Campaigning Award

Waris Dirie

Waris Dirie: Photo credit Janie Airey

FGM campaigner Waris Dirie wins the Women of the Year Campaigning Award 2013 sponsored by Sacla’

Waris, who was herself the victim of genital mutilation at the age of five, founded the Desert Flower Foundation in 2002 to fight against the worldwide practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) and provide support for its victims. She is the author of five international bestsellers, including Desert Flower,which tells her own life story and have also served to bring the atrocity of FGM into public and political consciousness

Waris Dirie said, “I feel honoured to receive this award, and it means a lot to me as I started my career in 1987 in London. Women in the world should be loved and respected at any time, and we have still a long way to go. We need to be proud of ourselves and our achievements. It gives us self-esteem and confidence.”

Clare Blampied, Managing Director of Sacla’ UK and a sponsor of the Women of the Year Lunch, presented the Award and said, “Waris Dirie is a truly inspirational winner for Sacla’ – beautiful, brilliant and brave, she has tirelessly campaigned to change the lives of women all over the world. We are proud and humbled to sponsor her ‘Women of the Year Campaigning Award’ and support her in her continued campaign to change the culture which still harms so many women every day.”


Waris Dirie was born into a nomad family living in the Somali desert near the border to Ethiopia in 1965. At the tender age of five, she was forced to undergo the inhuman procedure of female genital mutilation. This horrible tradition is still practiced in many countries around the world today – by both by Moslems and Christians. According to records kept by the United Nations more than 8000 girls become victims of this heinous crime every day.

At the age of 13, after being forced to marry a man who was old enough to be her grandfather Waris fled her homeland. After a daring escape and many tribulations, she arrived in London and initially found employment as a housemaid and later at a McDonald’s.

At the age of 18 she was discovered by one of Britain’s leading fashion photographers, Terence Donovan, who thought she would be the perfect model. She quickly became an international celebrity.

She was given a part in a James Bond epic, the blockbuster The Living Daylights, starring Timothy Dalton as 007.

In 1996 the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, appointed Waris Dirie a UN Special Ambassador for the elimination of Female Genital Mutilation. She has travelled the world extensively for the UN, participated in numerous conferences on the subject, met with national leaders, Nobel Prize-winners, international stars, gaining support for this important issue as well as generating large donations for the UN.

In 1997 Harper Collins in New York published Waris Dirie’s biography “Desert Flower”. The book quickly became an international bestseller. In the meantime the book has been published in 65 licensed editions, was number 1 on the bestseller lists in many countries and has sold more than 11 million copies worldwide.

In 2002 she founded her own foundation, named Waris Dirie Foundation, based in Vienna/Austria, to support her work as a campaigner against FGM. In 2010, the Foundation was re-named “Desert Flower Foundation” to reflect the broader approach to addressing Female Genital Mutilation though economic projects in Africa.

Waris Dirie has received many prestigious prizes and awards for her work and books, such as the “Women’s World Award” by President Mikhail Gorbachev. In 2007 the French President Nicolas Sarkozy presented her with the “Chévalier de la Légion d’Honneur”. The ‘World Demographic Association’ nominated her as the first woman for the ‘Prix de la Gènèration’ and the ‘Martin Buber Foundation’ nominated her as the first woman for the ‘Martin Buber Gold Medal’.

In March 2008 producer and Oscar-winner Peter Hermann (“Nowhere in Africa”) commenced with the shooting of “Desert Flower”. The initial filming took place in Djibouti with mostly amateur actors. Further locations included New York, Berlin and London. Waris Dirie served as associate producer for the film, which was directed by Sherry Hormann.