“In Khardji [Yemen], the village where I was born, women are not taught how to make choices,” Nujood Ali explains. Her mother married her father at age 16 without protest, and said nothing when her husband brought home another wife four years later. “It was with that same resignation that I at first agreed to my marriage … At my age, you don’t ask yourself many questions.” She cried about missing school.
Nujood was a small child of 10 when, in February 2008, she was married to a man more than three times her age. He paid Nujood’s father the equivalent to $750. He promised “not to touch Nujood before the year after she has her first period”; he lied. Nujood endured two months of rape, while her in-laws aided in her abuse and torture. In April 2008, driven by a sheer will to survive, Nujood got herself to the city courthouse, stood before a judge, and announced “‘I want a divorce.'”
Her unprecedented tenacity took Nujood on a dizzying journey towards freedom. Her lawyer, Shada Nasser, a feminist human rights lawyer who has made her own headlines, quickly became Nujood’s hero. Together, Nujood and Shada made history when Nujood became the first child bride in Yemen to win a divorce. Other young girls bravely followed suit, not only in Yemen, but in other neighboring countries, as well. The battle is hardly over: the traditional practice of taking child brides remains a societal ill in Yemen and beyond. “[T]here is even a tribal proverb: ‘To guarantee a happy marriage, marry a nine-year-old,'” surely an eerie echo of the prophet Muhammad’s marriage to his 9-year-old favorite wife Aisha.
Nevertheless, Nujood remains an international inspiration, her courage spread further by Glamour magazine which named her and Shada Nasser as “Women of the Year 2008.” Written with award-winning journalist Delphine Minoui, Nujood’s memoir is simple and direct, while it shatters and motivates. Nujood is now just entering her teenage-hood, is living with her family keeping an especially diligent eye on her younger sister, and most importantly, is back in school (her goal is to be a lawyer someday).
With her country currently in turmoil, her government in historical transition, Nujood has perhaps an unprecedented possibility to advocate for further change. At 10, she found her voice and made history; at 15, at 20, and beyond, what more will she do?
Readers: Young Adult, Adult
Published: 2010 (United States)