Since I’m a literature major, I spend a significant portion of my academic time studying texts that include female characters who are viewed as lesser to male counterparts. I read many texts written by males in times when women were seen solely as homemakers and caretakers. Within novels, stories, and poems, I have read with shock the cruel way that women have been treated throughout history. However, I’ve also rejoiced at the small triumphs, acts of rebellion, and finally been able to revel in the equality that women have achieved now. Always I say, women had it so tough back then.
When I think about circumstances that encourage the degradation and dehumanization of women, or take away their voices from society, I most often reach introspectively and glean examples from the historical texts that I’ve been made aware of. Key word: historical. However, as much as I’d love for the world to be a place of equality for all and sometimes fool myself into believing that it is, it is a sad fact that not all people are blessed with the social, cultural, and personal factors required for autonomy, respect, and equality.
Take for example, Nujood Ali. You may have seen this name in the news for the triumph she is most known for; she boldly filed for divorce at the tender age of 10, an unspeakable action in her home country of Yemen. Written with assistance from Delphine Minoui, Nujood Ali describes the circumstances, customs, social norms, and financial pressures that led to her marriage. She gives details of her violent, nightmarish marriage that she never consented to. She describes her harrowing escape from her husband. She depicts her nerve wracking walk up the courthouse steps where she boldly asked a judge for a divorce. All at the age of ten.
Nujood was an average ten-year old before her father made a deal with a thirty-year-old man so that Nujood would be married to him in exchange for money. She attended school, enjoyed playing hide-and-go-seek with her friends, and helped her mom around the house. For fun, she peered into store windows with her older sister, staring at beautiful dresses in the hopes that one day, far into the future, she’d be able to wear one of them on her wedding day. Most touching about these scenes prior to her marriage are the innocent ways that Nujood describes her hopes and perceptions of the world, at one point noting that weddings are just fun parties with lots of chocolate for everyone. The differences between Nujood’s fairytale hopes for the future and the actual sequence of events that unfurls is heartbreaking.
Her tale alternates between scenes in the courthouse and memories of the tribulations that she has encountered. This dual method of narration shows both her courage in the face of a law typically favorable toward males, and also the maturity and bravery needed to leave her abusive situation in the first place. Nujood was the first child bride to be granted a divorce and it becomes clear why while reading her descriptions of her life events; in a world tailored to cater to men, their desires, familial honors and customs, it seems almost impossible that someone such as Nujood should have escaped her plight.
This book is like a small skipping rock; it resonates deeply upon first impact, but the ruminations that follow the initial reading of the story are equally as powerful, if not more. Ideas of social justice, equality, freedom, familial ties, social structures, courage, and innocence all recur throughout the text, forcing readers to think about ideas that are challenging to grasp. I highly recommend reading this book. You’ll be in awe of the actions of this ten-year old girl, who while most children her age were learning to count to 100 was fighting against injustices that plague over half of Yemeni girls. Her divorce has opened up lines of communication both legally and socially so that more girls are recieving help from abusive situations. Still, the culture of the country is deeply ingrained in religion, tradition, and social norms, so it is still a challenge for Nujood to thrive despite the fact that she has been granted a divorce. In addition, more girls like Nujood need help and are not receiving it.
After writing this book, Nujood was awarded the title of Glamour magazine’s Woman of the Year in 2008. She receives most of the royalties from this book, and the proceeds are to be used for her to furthur her education. I did a little research about how Nujood is faring now and the reports are mixed; it appears that she began attending school again after her divorce but later started skipping school because of a combination of pressures from her family to provide a fortune for them, and the fact that life is still challenging because of her socioeconomic, and familial issues. This isn’t even taking to account the emotional scars that she also wakes up with each day. Nujood has dreams of becoming a lawyer and I truly hope that she pursues this endeavor; her courage, compassion, and desire to help others are qualities that are needed to help girls trapped in similar situations that she was. I certainly believe that Nujood has the capability to do anything she sets her mind to; already she has overcome such significant life obstacles with a level of maturity, grace, forgiveness, and understanding than many others her age or older could ever hope to.