This child caused an international uproar when she, at age 10, divorced her husband and set a precedent for stricter child marriage laws in Yemen.
This is Nujood Ali, whose book I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced, tells her story of being married off to a thirty-something year old man who regularly beat and raped her. Nujood grew up in a very poor household and her parents arranged the marriage so Nujood could be better supported. The marriage was agreed to assuming that her husband would wait to consummate the wedding until after Nujood’s first menstrual cycle. However, shortly after the marriage, her husband broke his promise and raped Nujood. When she woke up the next morning, Nujood found herself in her new house with her in-laws who beat Nujood and forced her to run the house. Eventually, after weeks of begging to return home, Nujood was allowed to visit her parents for the first time since the wedding. Upon seeing that her family considered her marriage “normal,” Nujood escaped to the courthouse to ask for a divorce, which was granted after a lengthy and heated trial.
This is Nujood with her lawyer and friend, Shada Nasser. Nasser took Nujood in during the trial. She is a feminist and human rights activist in Yemen who mainly helps with impoverished women in prisons.
I have to say, when I first got this book, I never fully internalized the title. I mean, think back to when you were 10. Did your concerns ever include the fear and disgrace of leaving a husband three times your age? The most astonishing part about this girl’s story is that asking for a divorce was unthinkable for her culture, especially not at age 10. I am amazed at how she found out about how to get a divorce, never stopped trying to escape her situation, built up the courage to leave, fought for her rights to divorce, wrote a book about her experiences, I could go on forever! Nujood is more accomplished at age 10 than I am at age 23. That is most definitely NOT to say that I am happy she had to endure this horrible situation or that it is an accomplishment to live through a horrible experience. But, her courage to speak to the world about her experience instead of being quiet and ashamed is remarkable. At age 10, Nujood understood that she can make a difference on issues like rape and forced child marriage. And she has made a huge difference. The publicity from her divorce has inspired young girls around the world to speak out and get out of abusive marriages.
This is a picture of Nujood and Shada at the Glamour Women of the Year Award Ceremony where they were both honored for their tremendous efforts on consciousness raising. Now 14, Nujood is living at her family’s new home that was purchased off the proceeds of her book. She is now back in school and has plans of becoming a lawyer.
I was initially thrown off and even angered by her father’s reaction to the trial and subsequent divorce. Even after Nujood returned to her family and gave most of the settlement money to her father, the family was still ashamed of her (as of the end of her book). If that situation had been forced on me, even if I was 10 years old, I probably would have just continued living with my lawyer at that point. I feel like Nujood, in some ways, is just changing puppeteers, so to speak, and letting another man continue to dictate her life (and potentially marry her off again). However, I think these feelings need reflection. The more I think about my feelings on the situation, the more I realize how privileged I am to even say that she should not have gone back to her family. My view is entrenched in Western feminism. It would be so difficult to put my family first in this context, especially if my family forced this situation upon me. This book has really opened my eyes to see my situation of privilege and examine the similarities and differences between my feminism and Muslim feminism. I think it’s a great read for anyone who wants to explore feminism through a different lens and hear the story of a truly empowered young woman!