A desert flower who meets cultural diversity

A True Story of Waris Dirie

Cultural diversity occurs in many different situations in life because we are grown up with different beliefs, traditions, norms, and values. The movie “Desert Flower” from 2009, based on a true story, tells a story about an African girl named Waris Dirie that meets cultural diversity – and experiences cultural clashes. The girl was born in 1965 in Somalia and was circumcised at three years old and sold by her dad at 13 years old to marry an old man.

She decided to escape, to leave from Africa, crossing the desert, and ending up in London where she became a international acclaimed supermodel. The movie is well-known internationally and has a 7.3 rate out of 10 on IMDb.

The movie is very emotional and touching since it involves scenes of a young girl whose rights were taken away in a very brutal way. It is honest and emphasizes the problems with cultures and traditions that violate women’s rights, but it also shows that a woman coming from this type of culture can succeed and become strong in cultures that promote women’s rights.

Individualistic cultures VS Collectivistic cultures

The movie allows from some reflections related to some cultural dimensions and cultural differences, for example the difference between individualistic and collectivistic cultures. Individualistic culture means that personal freedom is highly valued and the individual decision-making is encouraged. It promotes the independence of the people and not to do what the rest of the group says.

Collectivist society means that in-group ties are strong, it is valued to follow societal norms and to make group decisions. The collectivists promote the interdependence between the people in the different groups.

At the beginning of the movie Waris Dirie gets forced by her family to be married away to a man in exchange for a couple of camels. This is a decision that is promoted by a collectivistic group (in this situation the group is her family), and the feelings of Waris were not important in the decision. On the opposite, in an individualistic culture Waris Dirie would have had the freedom to choose.

Desert Flower – Back to Somalia

Later in the movie Waris Dirie is forced to come back to Somalia again, but she hid her passport so she couldn’t go. This was still an episode related to a collectivistic culture since she did not have the possibility to make her own choice of staying or going back, she was forced by a group of people (which in this case was again her family). But she tried to change the culture to be able to make her own choices, which she succeeded with to a certain extent since she got to stay (even though she had to hide her passport to succeed with that).

Another example is at the beginning of the movie when she did not want to show her body because she had been told her whole life from her family that she was not allowed to show her body to others. This is an example of group decision-making which is affecting her so much that she does not feel allowed to do what she wants with her body.

Desert Flower – In the end

In the end of the movie she decides that she wants to take professional pictures of her being naked which is an example of a more individualistic culture where she realized she does not have to listen to her family about not being allowed to show her body, she is allowed to make her own decision and in this case she wants to show it. This can also be seen in the way she dresses in the beginning of the movie and in the end of the movie.

In the beginning her culture decides what she is allowed to wear which is more covering clothes as well as the hijab, but in the end of the movie she dresses how she wants, more freely and with less covering clothes.

Masculinity culture VS Femininity culture

In the movie we also see examples of masculine and feminine cultures. Masculine culture means that the gender roles are very different. The man has to be strong, the woman kind. It emphasizes ambition, acquisition of wealth. Feminine culture on the other side is seen to be the trait which stresses caring and nurturing behaviors, humility and modesty, environmental awareness and more fluid gender roles.

The movie deals with the image of women in some cultures and how a woman is treated. The biggest issue here is a cruel tradition, genital mutilations. The genital mutilations in Waris have left a lasting negative mark on her. The movie deals with the problems of the treatment of women especially affected by genital mutilations.

But what exactly is genital mutilation? Genital mutilation is a cultural practice that is often done out of the interest to preserve the purity of a young woman. It is about the control of female sexuality and protecting her virginity till marriage.

A woman must be circumcised to be considered as a “real” woman otherwise she would be rejected by the society and considered as a prostitute. The physical consequences of genital mutilation can be death by bleeding like Waris’ sisters, infections, severe pain during menstruation and urination, formation of cysts and abscesses, infertility and AIDS.

Desert Flower – And the consequences?

The psychological consequences of genital mutilation also may include fear, shock, depression, trauma, and a difficult relationship with sexuality. Partly you can see the physical and psychological consequences Waris has to fight with after the genital mutilations. For Waris the genitale mutilations is unfortunately her normality. For example there is a scene in the movie, where a girl from London said that she didn’t undergo it. Waris became shocked because she always thought that all women had to. In that moment she realized her rights in Africa were not the same of other women.

Desert Flower – Other issues

The movie also addresses other issues that emphasize the different rights of the two genders in Waris’ culture: for example, she gets uncomfortable when a photographer asks to take pictures of her. Furthermore at her first visit in a club she did not want to dance, showing skin or drinking alcohol.

Her traumatic experiences such as the genital mutilations, forced marriage, and the rape in the desert have traumatized her and gave Waris trust issues. After Waris begins a career as a model, she gains money and stability, and also a certain amount of status and respect as a woman. Thus, the movie shows in an inspiring way how Waris grew up in a masculine culture in Somalia and how she changed herself by fleeing to London where she was able to live her life as an independent woman.

Thank you!

We want to give a very special thanks to Josefine Sildeman, Carla Gonzalez, Baamathe Baleswaran, Frida Vennström and Aylin Falken, students of the Dipartimento di Management, Master in Business Administration in Università degli Studi di Torino, for sharing their project and give us the possibility to publish it.

Josefine Sildeman

Baamathe Baleswaran

Frida Vennström

Aylin Falken