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When the word ‘nurture’ comes to mind, words like cultivate, growth, development and not ‘women’ come to mind. Many times, women are termed nurturers; a term meant to relegate them to just raising a home-front. But in fact, nurturing is a key leadership skill.
According to John Maxwell nurturing is a Leadership Attribute. This important ingredient is a factor in determining how you can ‘influence’ as a leader. Since it turns out women are great at these (as you have all concluded), then we should make a case for them in Leadership.
Let’s Change the Narrative
Being Nurturers has been a known disadvantage for a longtime now; that women are occupied with raising a home-front and consequently are not able to match the effectiveness of men at the workplace.
Many times, women who have aced at the work are seen as over-ambitious or had to not show the family-side of them. Women have had to prove the point to Superiors…to be promoted.
Questions like ‘Can a woman have it all?’ have arisen. And the phrase ‘We women have to work twice as hard’ is embraced. I don’t think driving women to the wall makes a case for them in leadership.
Yes women can have it all. In fact being a natural at nurturing is an added advantage, as there are many takeaways from it, and we must make the most of this transferable skill.
What Does Nurturing Entail
Taking Responsibility for Something
Nurturing is a show of responsibility. Beyond the act of ‘raising’, it is filling a real need.
It takes ‘taking responsibility’, to nurture. Be it an individual, the future, a brilliant idea. Not only for personal benefits. Many people fail to take responsibility, because they are consumed by personal benefits.
Many Years ago Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat for a white person in the bus. The impact of her actions didn’t just trigger a 381-day Montgomery bus boycott, but a ripple effect forever. It raised concerns on racial segregation and many years later things are a lot better.
She didn’t stand up only for herself, but for many generations coming after her. She has changed a narrative, by taking responsibility for the change she wanted to see.
Showing Dedication by Being Sold Out
Leadership means being ‘sold out’. And as in nurturing roles, it requires being deliberate, and out-rightly invested.
As a leader you are being entrusted with teams, projects, ideas, and you must be deliberate in nurturing it to attend its fullest potential.
This is usually required during motherhood. To nurture a fetus to adulthood; to be a significant part of someone’s growth journey, nurse their talents and ambitions, and to raise them. To get the best of what is being nurtured, there has to be maximum dedication.
In leadership, nurturing is required to harness the potential, and grow the people we are leading. Also, leaders can influence people they are dedicated to.
Tara Fela-Durotoye once narrated how. “A team member lost their child early hours of the morning and I was the first he called”. As a leader, a show of dedication is that you are invested in your team members’ well-being, and in return earn their trust.
Not just with people, everything we do. They become a reflection of how much we are dedicated to making it work. They are either up to full potential or not.
[Tweet “Not just that Rome wasn’t built in a day…a brick was laid ‘every day’.”]
Being Patient to get the best out of a Something
Patience is a skill needed even in nurturing our personal growth. To be masters and leaders of our journey, we have to be given to patience. It’s not just that Rome wasn’t built in a day, it is that a brick was laid ‘every day’.
Jim Kwik narrates how he had a brain injury that didn’t leave him the same. He grew up with learning difficulties, and literally had to throw away his dreams.
At some point, he found succor in stories like Einstein’s who was this genius that was dyslexic. He was also really fascinated by the super heroes; X-Men and the fact that the school of superheroes (in X-Men) was in his neighborhood.
Jim turned his life around by learning how to master his own brain to make it work for him and is now sharing his learning techniques to help people who are slow at learning to learn fast.
One of the most important lessons from his story was that he had to be patient, to nurture himself, to get the best of himself. Interestingly, he eventually had his encounter with the school of superheroes when the Chairman of 20th Century Fox later invited him to the set of X-Men.
He says “A super-hero for me is somebody who is on the path of discovering and developing their superpowers; their strengths, their unique ability, their unique talent…”
We are Masters in our own uniqueness. Leaders are people who are patient with themselves, and with others, to unravel their full potential. Like Einstein; it takes one thousand times to discover a light bulb.
[Tweet “Nurturing is about transforming nothing into something.”]
It is like planting a seed and believing that it will become a Tree. This becomes the fuel of dedication and patience, because our faith will become our reality eventually.
Linda Ikeji broke grounds for blogging in Nigeria. It hadn’t been popularized at the time. Even when a client reached out to advertise, she had no idea how much to charge.
Linda Ikeji Blog is now the go-to place for gossip in Nigeria, and has become a thriving business, even currently expanding – the fruit of her initial toiling. She says she had to work from home at a time, when she couldn’t afford an office space anymore.
Nurturing is about keeping the faith, rising above the tides, and transforming nothing into something. Faith is about going beyond ideas, and mustering up grit to transform our brainchildren into reality.
The reason for Women’s Leadership
Want to make a case for women in leadership? Then utilize their nurturing potential who are not only able capable of grooming the home front but nurturing careers, ideas, businesses, but because they have invaluable experience from the former.
They have been nurturing the future; a role we have come to stereotype them for. What the society fails to do is deploy the dedication, responsibility, patience, affection and other leadership attributes that they bear as a result of being nurturers.
Fatoumata Ba is an entrepreneur from Senegal who at the young age of 30 has achieved quite a lot. She is one of AWLO’s extraordinary voices and we gain insightful news about Fatoumata and what impact she has made in Africa.
Fatoumata Ba is the brain behind Jumia Ivory Coast an online retail platform supported by Africa Internet Group. She served as founder and CEO of Jumia Ivory Coast then served as the Managing Director, Jumia Nigeria. But before that, Fatoumata worked at Orange for a year in France and later worked as a Senior Consultant in strategy and innovation in Atos. Fatoumata has from a young age shown a creative and innovative mind. At the age of 9, she hacked her father’s computer, created her first email at 11 and built her first website at 16.
She has a master’s degree in Management, Strategy, Marketing and Finance. She was able to not only start Jumia Ivory Coast but also turn it into a successful venture which started with 13 employees in 2013 to more than 300 in 2015. She was able to turn it into the fastest growing e-commerce site with over 500,000 monthly site visitors and selling over 50,000 products.
Fatoumata was able to partner with over 30,000 vendors like Apple, L’Oréal and New Look. She is a member of Jumia Executive Committee. She not only founded Jumia Ivory Coast but is also the brain behind the Rocket Internet. The Rocket internet is the largest, fastest and most successful online venture builder. Rocket internet has built over 100 companies in about 43 countries.
Fatoumata’s successful career hasn’t gone unnoticed. She has been featured by CNN and listed by Forbes in Forbes Africa 30 entrepreneurs Under 30. She has also been awarded Choiseul 100 Africa Economic Leaders of Tomorrow. She is passionate about women’s entrepreneurship & empowerment, as well as tackling health and education issues through technology in Africa.
Fatoumata is an inspiration to young women to realize that you can make global impact even at a young age if only you put your mind and hard work into it.
She is one of the 30 Extraordinary Voices featured in the Women’s Month Series by AWLO. Click on your favorite social media button below to share if you have been inspired by Fatoumata Ba.
Jacqueline Ntuyabaliwe, born 6th of December, 1978 is a Tanzanian entrepreneur who is paving the way for herself in the furniture industry. She is one of AWLO’s extraordinary voices and we look at how she has been able to create a name for herself in an industry that is thought to be dominated by only men.
Jacqueline Ntuyabaliwe is an interior designer and the founder and principal designer of Molocaho by Amorette, a furniture company that designs and manufactures quality made furniture. Jacqueline highlights how she has always loved designing and creating. She cites how even at a young age, she was always drawing and sketching things;
“I’m a creative at heart. For as long as I can remember, I have had a passion for interior and furniture design, fine art and fashion – and I have been an ardent student of design trends and history. As a kid, I was always drawing and sketching things. It’s one of the things I enjoyed doing the most.”
But of course, she wasn’t always into furniture design and manufacturing. She had a musical career and was also one-time Miss Tanzania. She highlights how when her musical career was at a standstill she decided to move forward and take a step towards her passion. She then eventually went to school in the UK to hone her creative skill.
Jacqueline has always loved furniture and could always been seen sketching furniture. She explains how she believes that an individual’s choice of furniture tells a lot about who that person is;
“I love furniture, maybe it’s because of my work in interior design, but also because I believe a person’s furniture tells a lot about who they are… “
She also talks about how she used to only sketch furniture just for the sake of it and also highlights her husband as her biggest supporter who pushed her to take her creativity more seriously and make something out of it;
“…At first, I would just sketch furniture ideas for the sake of it, but quite often, my husband would see some of my sketches and complement me. He’d say I was wasting a gift. He always asked me to take my artistry more seriously and create a company out of it.”
Her company has been able to make use of traditional craft techniques with a contemporary twist to create innovative and challenging pieces of furniture which are usually simple yet beautiful and profound. Her hopes for Molocaho is to make it a globally known company;
“Our plan is to build a globally-recognizable furniture brand right from Tanzania. It’ll definitely take some time to get there, but we are resolute”
EMPOWERING LOCAL ARTISTS
While she is designing and making furniture, Jacqueline recognizes the need to give back to the society and in this effect, she set up a mentorship program for the artisan community in Tanzania through her interior design company- Amorette. The mentorship program involves exposing the local artists to international workmanship by putting the trainees under the supervision of internationally recognized crafts persons. Its objective is to transfer technology and knowledge to the artists.
ENVIRONMENTAL AND SOCIAL CAUSE
Her company is also geared towards protecting and conserving the environment. Hence, Molocaho’s processes are geared towards reducing consumption and avoiding waste. The company reuses wood from various sources, recycles, and actively supports tree planting initiatives across Tanzania;
[Tweet “At the end of the day, businesses must not only be commercially viable, they must also be socially responsible to the communities in which they do business @JNtuyabaliwe”]
” At the end of the day, businesses must not only be commercially viable, they must also be socially responsible to the communities in which they do business”
Jacqueline isn’t just invested in the go green initiative, she is also the founder of the Dr Ntuyabaliwe foundation which is a charity organization that provides books and set up libraries for local primary schools. Jacqueline is a model of inspiration as she shows you can create and make a name for yourself in an industry that undermines women. As to her company and her future plans for it she says humorously in an interview;
“We’ve only just begun, but we’re going to build this baby into an empire someday. Just watch”
She is one of the 30 Extraordinary Voices featured in the Women’s Month Series by AWLO. Click on your favorite social media button below to share if you have been inspired by Jacqueline Ntuyabaliwe.
Selassie Atakida is a Ghanaian culinary chef who has made waves in the world of fine cuisine. She is one of our extraordinary voices in this month. One thing that is very noticeable in our extraordinary series is how these women have been able to make impact in their various professions and create a niche for themselves. We explore how Selassie has made a name for herself by mastering the art of cooking.
Selassie Atadika has always been interested in cooking since she was about four or five years old and it is pretty much not a surprise to anyone that she is invested in the art of food. But it’s quite shocking to know that she wasn’t always a chef. Selassie dreamt of going to culinary school but alas, due to objections from her father, she ended up in a successful career with the United Nations. Even at that, she never stopped cooking. She never forgot her passion. She says;
“But I still kept cooking,”
Selassie’s career in the United Nations first started with her working as a civilian in UN peace keeping missions in Angola and Kosovo before she eventually started work with the UNICEF on humanitarian projects all over Africa. She cites how her career with the UN gave her the opportunity to experience the different traditional foods in different countries in Africa;
“I would explore the local cuisine and then try to figure out how those ingredients could be played around with,” she says.
Selassie eventually resigned from the UN to focus on her cooking. She and two of her friends started a pop-up restaurant in Dakar, Senegal where they served food once a month at different locations in the city.
She founded the Midunu- a company with its name derived from the Ewe language which means “let us eat.” The company is centered on catering for private parties and corporate events, but the company also throws monthly nomadic dinners in different locations in Accra. She speaks on how she wants the world to see African food and for the world to take notice of the beauty that is African cuisine. She highlights how with globalization; a lot of African cuisine is being forgotten;
“With globalization and urbanization, a lot of things are getting lost”
[Tweet ““Beyond celebrating Africa’s culinary heritage, I want to look at preserving Africa’s culinary heritage””]
She uses ingredients from different places in Africa to celebrate our diverse culinary heritage and also to preserve it;
“Beyond celebrating Africa’s culinary heritage, I want to look at preserving Africa’s culinary heritage”
She not only cooks but uses the different spices in Africa to produce chocolate. She says it’s like telling the story in a simple way when people taste chocolate and taste a spice or flavor that is African. A connection of people and culture;
“It’s telling the African story through chocolate”
She is one of the 30 Extraordinary Voices featured in the Women’s Month Series by AWLO. Click on your favorite social media button below to share if you have been inspired by Selassie Atadika.
“A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.”
– Colin Powell
Ernestina Edem Appiah, born in 1977 is a Ghanaian virtual assistant by profession and a social entrepreneur. She is an inspiring lady and AWLO recognizes her this month as one of our extraordinary voices. We get to explore how inspiring and awesome she is.
Ernestina is inspiring for a number of reasons. Her story highlights a determined and focused lady who was able to shape her life to be something she wanted it to be,and give back to society in what little way she could.
Ernestina Appiah is the founder of the Ghana code club but before that she worked as a secretary for a Ghanian IT consultancy firm. Ernestina has always wanted a career in IT and when she saw the work the only lady in the consultancy firm did, it inspired her to take the bold step to learn all about HTML and all things relating to IT. She can be quoted as saying;
“I have always desired to have a career in IT, after starting working as a secretary for a Ghanaian IT consultancy firm in Accra in 2000. I admired the consultants as they carried along with their work, especially the only lady in their midst”
Even with her determination to learn, she says how she found the price of going to school to learn very expensive. But that didn’t stop her from learning. She was so determined that she found a way to get what she wanted;
“…I opted to hire a web designer to teach me the fundamentals of programming using HTML. This was how I got introduced into the IT industry. I then started practicing on my own, day-in and day-out to perfect my skills…”
Ernestina’s determination made it possible for her to have her career in the IT industry but did she stop there, no! she decided to give back to society by creating an NGO geared called the Healthy Career Initiative and also consequently founded the Ghana Code Club.
THE HEALTHY CAREER INITIATIVE AND THE GHANA CODE CLUB
Ernestina’s Healthy Career Initiative is a not for profit geared towards teaching and mentoring girls in the field of information, communication and technology. She cites how her life story influenced her to do this in order to help young girls.
“…I was so happy and overly excited about the paradigm shift in my life that I yearned to share my story and mentor girls into the field of information, communication and technology”
Not only did she start this, Enestina realized that there was a need for children to be taught at an early age about technology, coding etc. This occurred to her when she was trying to teach her son the basics of programming;
“One day as my son turned 5 years, I was looking for a platform to train him on the basics of programming when I came across a group of children from the UK using the Makey Technology kits to create digital content and fun activities, which picked my interest…”
She cites how this made her transition from the Healthy Career Initiative to the Ghana Code Club which is geared towards youth digital literacy. She believes children shouldn’t only know how to use technology but should also know how it works. Hence, the organization teaches children basic programming skills with projects from Scratch, HTML+ CSS and python.
The club gives children the chance to learn how to create and design games, animation etc. When asked in an interview why she’s teaching children coding, she had this to say;
[Tweet ““Learning to code is an important skill now that we are living in a digital age… Learning to code doesn’t just mean you can become a developer – it strengthens problem solving and logical thinking skills, and is useful for a range of other disciplines, careers and hobbies.””]
“Learning to code is an important skill now that we are living in a digital age… Learning to code doesn’t just mean you can become a developer – it strengthens problem solving and logical thinking skills, and is useful for a range of other disciplines, careers and hobbies.”
Not only is the club for children, they also train ICT teachers to be more proficient and updated.
Although she faces struggles such as funding, it doesn’t stop her and her team of volunteers from doing what little they can and to influence the world and that alone makes Ernestina an inspiration.
She is one of the 30 Extraordinary Voices featured in the Women’s Month Series by AWLO. Click on your favorite social media button below to share if you have been inspired by Ernestina Appiah.
Liya Kebede was born on the 1st of March, 1978 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. She is a model, maternal health advocate, clothing designer and actress. Liya has used her fame from modeling and acting to make progress and bring about awareness to her cause. AWLO recognizes her as one of our extraordinary voices in our women’s month series. Here is why we think she’s outstanding
HER FIGHT FOR MATERNAL HEALTH CARE
Liya Kebede is at the forefront of advancing maternal health care in her country; Ethiopia and also in most African countries. She says her passion began when she became a mother and realized that most women in her country and some underdeveloped parts of Africa die during child birth and this is because they do not have access to basic health care amenities
“One of the number one killers of women still today is pregnancy and childbirth complications…These are all things that are ninety percent preventable and treatable because really they are dying from things that are very simple, and they are dying because they don’t have access to any kind of basic medical care or trained nurse or caregiver, really…”
In 2005 she was appointed as WHO’s ambassador for maternal newborn and child birth. To further advance her cause, she started the Liya Kebede Foundation now known as the LemLem foundation that same year.
THE LEMLEM FOUNDATION
The Lemlem foundation founded by Liya kebede is aimed at creating awareness and helping the fight to combat maternal mortality. Liya sights in an interview how the issue of maternal health isn’t receiving enough attention, hence the need for the foundation;
“We wanted to focus on raising awareness of the issue because it was an issue that had been going on for so long, but not really getting the attention it deserved…”
The foundation works to promote access to health care and economic opportunities and also supports leading organizations working to reduce maternal and new born deaths in Africa. She has been able to through her foundation train midwives and has set goals to still train midwives across several African countries including Ethiopia, Tanzania, Senegal, South Sudan and Uganda.
SUPPORT FOR AFRICAN DESIGNS
Liya is not only an advocate and model, but she is also a designer with a clothing company. She has used her company to work in collaboration with her foundation to empower women and African artist. All the products which the company offers are hand-made by African artists. She explains in an interview how she was able to create a solution to help women and artists;
“I was walking around the city in Ethiopia and visited all of these incredible weavers who were really struggling to find work or a market for their goods because of Westernization and fast fashion. I just thought this was a feel-good way of creating a market for them, improving their skill, and bringing a new product to the marketplace for the consumer that has a story and more of a 360 product that is also changing the lives of people…”
She not only uses these means to further her cause but also writes for the Huffington Post and others to bring about more exposure on the need for good maternal health care. She continues fighting this cause hoping that one day, African maternal health care will be up to standard
“My aim, during that time and since then, has been to inspire others to feel as passionate about this cause as I do and to lend their support to reach more mums and save more lives.”
She is one of the 30 Extraordinary Voices featured in the Women’s Month Series by AWLO. Click on your favorite social media button below to share if you have been inspired by Liya Kebede.
Bukola Elemide was born was born on the 17th of September, 1982 in Paris. She is a Nigerian French singer, songwriter and recording artiste. Her music is known worldwide and she is one of AWLO’s extraordinary voices and as such, we explore her outstanding journey into the music industry.
THE STORY OF BUKOLA ELEMIDE
Bukola Elemide aka Asa which means ‘Hawk’ in Yoruba was born to Nigerian parents in Paris. When she was two years old they moved back to Nigeria. The only girl out of four children, she was often left alone at home with her brothers, when her parents traveled and that was how she found music. It’s very ironical to think that the very talented Asa was once rejected by choirs because of her low-pitched voice which set her apart;
[Tweet “…People didn’t understand my low-pitched deep voice, the choirs didn’t want anything to do with me. @Asa_official“]
“…People didn’t understand my low-pitched deep voice, the choirs didn’t want anything to do with me. I had to get to church first if I was to have any chance of getting near the mic”
It is often known that when people are made for greatness, they are often set apart because of how different they are from others. Asa went through a stage where she was bullied and often left alone because of how differently she did things;
“I was a tomboy and when I was a teenager I became very shy because people made fun of me … in my own way, I was already attracting attention! I got in the habit of never doing anything like everyone else…”
She cites how her father had a collection of music records with artists like Michael Jackson, Aretha Franklyn, Marvin Gaye, Angelique Kidjo which she grew up listening to and later influenced her musical career;
“My dad had the records of my earliest musical influences. He used them for his work and I loved the way they looked on the album covers. Michael Jackson was a hit as far I was concerned! He danced so well and I loved to dance”
Asa has her style of music going in a different direction from the norm of what Nigerian music is known to be. While she says she doesn’t term her music as it is too limiting. She says that she writes based on how she feels and at the end wants people to be touched by her music and that is exactly what her music does. Nobody can deny the vibes you get when you hear Jailer or Dead again;
“I am not sure I can describe my sound and music. When I write and sing, I just want the music to touch you…”
Asa’s music is timeless and ethereal. Her lyrics are based on her life experiences, her country and life in general. She has a way of drawing people into her music which makes her phenomenal. Asa has shown perseverance in her journey. She inspires people to follow their dreams no matter the struggles and obstacles we face;
[Tweet “Always start a journey with your own self. Forget about the noise and what’s happening – @Asa_official“]
“I went through a lot but I can’t start telling you everything but what I learnt is that you should believe in yourself. Always start a journey with your own self. Forget about the noise and what’s happening, it’s you. And that is the basic truth.”
Bukola Elemide is one of the 30 Extraordinary Voices featured in the Women’s Month Series by AWLO. Click on your favorite social media button below to share if you have been inspired by Bukola Elemide.
“….African art like Picasso’s art, is not about describing things but about conveying the idea of things and people…”
Esther Mahlangu was born on the 11th of November, 1935 in Middleburg, Mpumalanga, South Africa. She is a painter whose works are recognized internationally and has won several awards. At the age of 83 and settled in her house in South Africa, Esther is still invested in the art that she has always done and loved. She is one of AWLO’s extraordinary voices and we explore her incredible works.
At the age of 9, in accordance with the Ndebele tradition, Esther was taught how to paint by her mother and grandmother. In an interview with SheLeadsAfrica, she speaks on how she was inspired by her mother and grandmother saying; “I was inspired by both women. From as far as I can remember, I followed traditions passed down from my mother and grandmother. I learned traditional Ndebele wall painting and bead-work, as a child that was all I did every day.”
[Tweet “Esther Mahlangu has used traditional painting to become a voice that represents the beauty that is predominant in Africa”]
Esther Mahlangu’s consistency and interest in the traditional paintings of her people has led her to be recognized in the Western World and she has used the traditional painting to become a voice that represents the beauty that is predominant in Africa. In an interview she talks about how African art has influenced the western culture; “There has always been a fascination, demand, and admiration for art from Africa”
Esther’s paintings are a reference to the Ndebele traditions with a modern twist to them. She also in an interview highlights the uniqueness of the Ndebele style; “…the Ndebele style is one of the most significant styles of painting that still resembles original shapes and forms. It is colorful and abstract and lends itself to incorporation into modern design.”
The beauty of her paintings gave her the opportunity to design a BMW car making her the first woman to receive the honor.
[Tweet “Esther Mahlangu’s paintings has given her the opportunity to design a BMW car; making her the first woman to receive the honor.”]
HER HOPE FOR AFRICA
Esther not only paints, but she also has an art school where she teaches on the significance and importance of the Ndebele painting. She does this in order to sustain the cultural heritage of the Ndebele people.
She says in an interview; “I have always had the calling to teach the science and significance of the Ndebele painting, and why we paint. Over the decades it has become my goal to preserve my cultural heritage. I built an art school in the backyard of my home in Mathombothiini (Weltevreden) in the Kwamhlanga district in Mpumalanga Province.”
Her hope is that African art can be taught in formal schools and institutions in South Africa and she is working towards that dream; “…What is mostly important to me is to have formal educational schools and facilities teach African art. That is a dream I am building towards.”
Esther also hopes to transfer her skills to the next generation. She remains one of Africa’s representatives of how some cultures in Africa portray beauty and art which is often times underestimated and shows the world that there is more to Africa than the stereotypes that Africa is known for.
“The legacy I want to leave in this world is the art and crafts that has made me the recognized icon I am today…”
She is one of the 30 Extraordinary Voices featured in the Women’s Month Series by AWLO. Click on your favorite social media button below to share if you have been inspired by Esther Mahlangu.
Waris Dirie was born in 1965 at Gallacaio desert, Somalia. She is one of twelve children born to a nomad family. She was a model, currently a writer and a social activist.
Waris’ journey through life has been inspiring. She shows that the leadership journey is sometimes filled with bumps but with determination and courage, you can succeed. Here are things we found about Waris Dirie and how they have made her one of our extraordinary voices.
[Tweet “Waris’ journey through life has been inspiring. She shows that the leadership journey is sometimes filled with bumps but with determination and courage, you can succeed”]
[Tweet “Waris Dirie ran barefooted for several days across the desert to Mogadishu at 13 to avoid her arranged marriage to a man of over 60 years”]
From an early age, she has shown outstanding courage. In an interview, she described herself as being strong-willed and determined and not the type of child her traditional parents wanted.
She showed how courageous and strong willed she was when she ran barefooted for several days across the desert to Mogadishu at 13 to avoid her arranged marriage to a man of over 60 years.
[Tweet “I knew there was so much I could do with my life, but on my terms – @Waris_Dirie”]
In an interview with the guardian she said “I knew [most married women in her community] put up with everything and anything. Any abuse, hopelessness, and I thought, was I here to be used and be abused? I knew there was so much I could do with my life, but on my terms.” The thought of her being more than a child bride pushed her to make the courageous decision to run away from home and become more.
Her fight Against Female Genital Mutilation
At the age of 5, she underwent the gruesome ordeal of female genital mutilation, she was left in a makeshift shelter under a tree for several days to recover. Due to the physical and emotional turmoil she went through after being mutilated, she has spent her time fighting against FGM.
In 1997, she abandoned her modeling job to focus on her work against FGM. She said in an interview with ventures Africa; “…I was meant to survive everything I did so that one day I could speak out about this torture and fight for little girls out there who are not able to fight on their own!” Her fight led her to start the Desert Flower Foundation which advocates for the abolition of FGM. Still in an interview, she highlights; “…No innocent little girl should go through this kind of unnecessary cruel pain.”
She also started a medical centre in Berlin which is solely to offer reconstructive surgery to women who have gone through FGM and even with that, she says; “I don’t want to put too much focus on it, because the whole point is to stop this mutilation in the first place. We don’t have to have special hospitals to reconstruct a God-given thing”
[Tweet “I would like the world to remember me for my fight against FGM and as a survivor who never gave up… – @Waris_Dirie”]
Advocacy Through Writing
Waris is not only an activist against FGM, a former model, but she’s also an author. She has written several books such as Desert Flower, Desert Dawn, Letters to My Mother, Desert Children. Her books highlight her ordeal and also sets out to educate people on the dangers of female genital mutilation to young girls. She hopes that through her books, the world can become aware of the fact that FGM still exist and that thousands of women and girls go through it. Hence, why she said; “ I wanted to reach people through my story; I wanted them to know about the pain and suffering that thousands of girls and women have to go through every day…”
Her journey has not been easy. From a young girl who suffered mutilation, to a teen who for several days had to run barefooted to avoid child marriage, working as a maid, her story is inspiring as the bumps didn’t stop her from doing what she says is her mission. About bringing an end to FGM, she has this to say; “I can’t turn back, not now I’m almost there. You just have to keep going until one day it will come to an end.”
She also inspires us to never give up on our dreams “I would like the world to remember me for my fight against FGM and for the women of Africa, and then I would like to be remembered as a survivor who never gave up…as I wish the people in this world would never give up on their dreams, their hopes and their life happiness.”
She is one of the 30 Extraordinary Voices featured in the Women’s Month Series by AWLO. Click on your favorite social media button below to share if you have been inspired by Waris Dirie.