In Yemen, a country described by one of the authors as remote and picturesque, we meet Nujood Ali. She lives in abject poverty, in backward conditions, without running water, electricity or creature comforts. Yet, she is happy with her simple life. When a matter of honor brings shame upon her family and there is no money for food or rent, her father marries her off to a man 30 years her senior and her nightmare begins.
She is only ten years old. A promise is made to respect her and not consummate the marriage until a year after her first menses. She is ripped from her life and taken to her childhood home town, a very inaccessible place, where her new husband still lives, and, in an unspeakable act of cruelty, he comes to the marriage bed and does not honor his pledge to abstain. As time passes and Nujood is not a willing participant, he beats her. The poor child did not know what to expect and was totally unprepared for the abuse she experienced in her new family. She is overworked and mistreated.
This story is about her marriage and eventual escape and pursuit of a divorce. Her courage, which enabled her to bring her case to court and end the marriage, has succeeded in bringing some change to the policies in her country, encouraging other young girls to come forward to try and save themselves from abusive arrangements, but it has also brought unwanted publicity to her family. What Nujood has done, has brought dishonor to them and even her female lawyer has received threats. There is danger in fighting these battles for women’s rights. The world is upside down when a child, defending her own honor, is accused of dishonoring her family by demanding her freedom.
The mistreatment of women in many Muslim countries is exemplified in this tale of child abuse. While Nujood has been honored and has dreams of a future as a lawyer, her prospects for achieving this seem slim. In her country, poverty abounds, women have few rights and they remain uneducated and illiterate as do many men. Women have few expectations and basically accept their neglected condition because they have no power to do otherwise. When a child is “sold” into marriage, women may actually become her biggest enemies, goading her and punishing her for what they consider her disrespectful behavior when she is disobedient. Women expect to be overworked, bear children and follow orders. They are so beaten down that they have little self esteem and expect even less out of life. Theirs is to do or die, obediently, quietly and respectfully.
Although the story seems disjointed at first, all the pieces come together in the end. I realize it is a true story but it defies my imagination and fills me with horror and regret that such conditions exist in the modern world.