Waris Dirie – Austria – Social Activism – Chevalier of the Légion d’honneur; Founder of the Desert Flower Foundation fighting against female genital mutilation
Waris Dirie is a Somali model, author, actress and human rights activist. Waris was discovered by photographer Terence Donovan in London and began a successful modeling career. In 1987, Waris played a minor role in the James Bond movie The Living Daylights and appeared on the runways of London, Milan, Paris and New York City, and in fashion magazines such as Elle, Glamour and Vogue. In 1995 by a BBC documentary entitled A Nomad in New York about her modeling career. In 1997 Waris spoke for the first time with Laura Ziv of the women’s magazine Marie Claire about the female genital cutting (FGC) that she had undergone as a child, an interview which received worldwide media coverage. That same year, Waris became a UN ambassador for the abolition of FGC, and later paid her mother a visit in her native Somalia. In 2009, a feature-length film based on Waris’ book Desert Flower was released, with the Ethiopian supermodel Liya Kebede playing her. In January 2010, it won the Bavarian Film Awards in Munich in the Best Movie category and was nominated for a Film Award in Gold in the Outstanding Feature Film category at the German Film Awards, and won the Audience Award in the Best European Film category at the San Sebastián International Film Festival. In 2010, Waris was appointed Peace Ambassador for the Year of Peace and Security by the African Union.
In 2002, she founded the Desert Flower Foundation in Vienna, Austria, an organization aimed at raising awareness regarding the dangers surrounding Female Genital Cutting. Waris followed that in January 2009 with the establishment of the PPR Foundation for Women’s Dignity and Rights’, an organization she founded along with French tycoon François-Henri Pinault (CEO of PPR) and his wife, Hollywood actress Salma Hayek. Waris has also started the Desert Dawn Foundation, which raises money for schools and clinics in her native Somalia, and supports the Zeitz Foundation, an organization focused on sustainable development and conservation. Waris has received many prizes and awards for her humanitarian work and books.