Desert Flower has already been shown in Europe and South America, and this week arrives in United States and in Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa as well. In the film, Kebede takes on a role close to her heart.
Desert Flower tells the story of Waris Dirie, a Somalian model from the late eighties to early nineties. Dire went through female circumcision when she was only 3-years-old and was sold into marriage when she turned 13. Though they had very different experiences, Kebede born in Somalia’s neighbor, Ethiopia says she related very much to Dirie’s story and wanted to do it justice.
The issue of female circumcision has been one of the international communities fiercest debates. While the practice inflicts horrendous pain on women and girls, it is seen by some as merely a cultural rite of passage. Kebede says with Desert Flower, she hopes to illuminate the need for a woman to choose what happens to her body but also for them to get the education and opportunities they need.
Unfortunately, the issue happens not just in Somalia, it happens also in Ethiopia and all different places, and it’s a cultural thing… The girls just need another choice in life than the only choice that they have at this moment, which is marriage. And because that’s the only choice they have, they fall into customs, if you will, as opposed to if they had a choice. If they were educated and if they were independent somewhat, earned their own money, these kinds of things would just go away.
Delving into a film with a purpose is what we expect from Kebede, who is an active philanthropist. Though she has graced the cover of Vogue and was the first black model to sign a lucrative cosmetics contract with Estée Lauder, Kebede says she is proudest of her work as a goodwill ambassador for the World Health Organization’s maternal and child health program. She is the founder of the Liya Kebede Foundation, which works with both women and girls.