Trailblazing activist Waris Dirie talks empowering women and ending FGM

Collaborating with Coco de Mer and Rankin, the Desert Flower activist stands for the end of Female Genital Mutilation internationally.

Born in Somalia in 1965, Waris Dirie was subjected to FGM at the age of 5, and vowed as she grew up to end the misogynistic practise. Working with iconic lingerie brand Coco de Mer and photographer Rankin, Waris sought to collaborate on a film and creation which would raise awareness about the reality of FGM and fight for its removal from communities worldwide. The result is an empowering film, featuring Waris and other women who believe in the importance of speaking up on the dramatic impact of the cruel ritual, and seek to make it end, for good. Coco de Mer and the Desert Flower Foundation both share the focus of fighting for gender equality, and in the empowerment of women. We spoke to the iconic Waris Dirie to find out the significance of this collaboration in her world, and in the world beyond us…

How did you come to decide it was time to open up about your story through Desert Flower? Were you afraid to share your truth with the world?

When I was a small girl living in the desert of Somalia I suffered female genital mutilation, the most brutal crime you can do to a girl or woman. I almost died from blood loss and delivered high fever. I did not understand why my mother, even holding me down, allowed the ugly old cutter to destroy my genitals in a most horrible way. Even though I was a little girl I knew this was wrong and I promised myself to fight one day against this practice not knowing how, when or where. Many years later I used my fame as a supermodel and started my mission. I was not afraid of all as I knew I had a mission and I will not stop until my mission is completed.

Rankin/The Full Service

What drew you to working with Coco de Mer and Rankin? What does the project mean to you?

Lucy Litwack CEO of Coco de Mer contacted my Desert Flower Foundation and offered a great concept to shoot a campaign video to end FGM and a lingerie shoot for Coco de Mer’s Icon Collection with Rankin. I immediately loved the concept as it combines a great awareness campaign to eradicate the worst crime you can do to end female pleasure and a great photoshoot to celebrate female pleasure.

What do you hope people will take away from this collaboration?

My goal is to collect with the campaign 10 Million signatures to EndFGM and present all signatures with the demands I have written in my Desert Flower Manifesto to the secretary general of UN ,the president of the Africa Union and the president of the European Commission. You can sign the petition here.

Rankin/The Full Service

Why do you think that the practice of FGM is still prevalent in 2019? Have you noticed much change since you started campaigning?

There is a massive decrease of FGM in Africa since I started my mission in 1997. New studies published in renowned “British Medical Journal” show the prevalence of FGM amongst girls under the age of 14 dropped from 71,4% in 1995 to 8% in 2017 just in East Africa where I come from. Today many young mothers and fathers are completely against the practice .Unfortunately FGM is rising in Europe, the US, Canada and Australia.

What do you feel like most needs to change in order for gender equality to be a reality in our future?

The most important thing is we, the mothers have to understand, it is in our hands to create a better future. We educate our girls and boys and we have the biggest influence on them. Love and respect each other are the most important things we have to teach them.

Rankin/The Full Service

Does it feel like a positive time to have a platform to speak in today’s cultural climate


What does your 2019 look like so far? What’s next for you and the Desert Flower Foundation?

Great year! It started with Coco de Mer and the launch of the “10 Million signatures to EndFGM” campaign in London ,the presentation of my “Desert Flower” Musical in Switzerland ,which will premiere on February 22, 2020, starting the construction of 2 “Desert Flower Schools” for 1000 girls in Sierra Leone. I am working on an “Africa TV documentary” with a large Asian TV broadcaster. On June 22nd 2019 we will host our first “Desert Flower Team Triathlon”, a charity sports in Kitzbuhel Austria, with more than 2000 participants coming from all over the world. I am writing a new book about my interpretation of “Beauty” which will be published worldwide in March 2020 and I will do 2 more fashion campaigns this year.

Waris Dirie is the new face of Coco de Mer’s ICONS range, which launches today and a percentage of all the proceeds from the sales of the Icons collection will go to Waris’s charity the Desert Flower Foundation. Click through the gallery below for a look at the collection and shoot with Waris Dirie. Watch the collaborative film below now too, which aims to collect 10 million signatures by the end of 2019 for the campaign to finally stop FGM indefinitely – sign here

  • WORDS Kitty Robson
  • CREATIVES Oliver Nowlan and Felicity Hopkinson
  • PRODUCER Christine Wright
  • DOP Catherine Derry
  • FOCUS PULLER Catharine Brown
  • ART DEPARTMENT Marco Turcich, Kenzie Yeo Donaldson, Amelia Tavenner
  • MAKEUP ARTIST Marco Antonio
  • HAIR STYLIST Jonathon Connelly
  • MANICURIST Kelly Shenton
  • STYLIST Ellie Witt
  • MAKEUP ARTIST Charli Avery
  • HAIR STYLIST Jamie Rose
  • TALENT Waris Dirie and her two sons, Teresa Delos, Ummuh Konteh, Cymonda Kamara, Kathy Honnah, Peter Konteh, Farhiya Abdullahi, Yasmine England, Cynthia Nchang

Related Content