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'Desert Flower' A Must-See Film About a Must-Change Custom

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Late last year, members of the Women's Voices for Change community were invited to an advance screening of the film Desert Flower (Yes, that's Dr. Pat in the LIFE Magazine photo below.) Based on the autobiographical novel of the same name, the film chronicles the story of Waris Dirie, a young Somali girl who made the amazing journey from the most harsh conditions as a desert nomad to unexpected success as a fashion model and activist. The film does not reveal the nature of the horror at the center of the story until the audience has become comfortable with this Cinderella tale. Otherwise, the film would be relegated to the docu-dramas of other unspeakable tragedies that befall women and children all over the globe.

When we learn about the nature of the secret shame and pain that has affected this young woman, every person in the audience could understand both her passion to eliminate the procedure that has so affected her life. We also understand the commitment of health care workers and activists who have worked for decades to eliminate the brutal custom of female genital mutilation.

This is a film that should be seen with mothers and daughters; a film that should be sent to our representatives in Congress, because female genital mutilation does not only occur in isolated desert spots -- it is global. This film should arm those who are trying to change the concept that a mother is only as virtuous as her ability to prove that her daughter is virginal before marriage, no matter what the cost.

Additionally, this film should be used by the United Nations as it works not only to make this barbaric procedure illegal, but to find ways to punish the women who perform female genital mutilation.

Desert Flower opens this Friday in New York and Los Angeles. Below is the response of one WVFC viewer, international governance consultant Jacqueline Frank, to the film. In the coming days, we'll also hear about from NPR correspondent Jacki Lyden and WVFC Medical Advisory Board member Dr. Lauri Romanzi, a reconstructive pelvic surgeon and urogynecologist who volunteers with the International Organization for Women and Development in Niger.

From Jacqueline Frank:
Last night I had the good fortune to attend a screening of the soon to be released film Desert Flower. The film is a compelling dramatization of the life of former model Waris Dirie, who, growing up in Somalia, suffered forced female genital mutilation (FGM) at the tender age of three. This powerful film does an excellent job of bringing the issue of FGM into the light, making it real, painful and impossible to ignore.

Supporters of FGM today claim (correctly) that it is a tradition which has been going on for thousands of years. So is slavery. So is child marriage. So was suttee, the tradition in India of widows throwing themselves on their husbands' funeral pyres.

Tradition is no defense for human rights abuse. This film must be seen, and not only by women. Men must understand the role they play in the mutilation women undergo to become marriageable (plastic surgery anyone?) See the film, tell everyone you know to see it. It is long overdue for this issue to becoming a rallying cry, to help those most vulnerable.

Patricia Yarberry Allen, MD, director of the New York Menopause Center, is a gynecologist affiliated with New York-Presbyterian Hospital and a board-certified fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. She is a spokesperson on women's health, and the publisher of Women's Voices for Change.

Originally posted on Women's Voices for Change.