Feminism | Posted by Julia O on 04/9/2012

Nujood Ali: A Real Life Heroine

Nujood Ali and Shada Nasser

The quote I have taped to the lower right hand corner of my bathroom mirror is “I no longer think about marriage.” Nujood Ali spoke those words after successfully gaining her divorce at the age of 10. She became the youngest divorcee ever, and sparked a worldwide awakening about the horrors child brides face and the injustice they experience.

Nujood’s father arranged a marriage for her when she was ten years old. The man she married was over 20 years older than her. Her husband and mother-in-law physically and mentally abused her. In Yemen, it’s legal for girls to wed at any age, but they cannot have sexual relations until the court deems them old enough. Nujood’s husband raped her repeatedly even though the court had never “given him permission” to consummate the marriage. Showing incredible bravery, Nujood went to the courthouse by herself and waited for a judge to see her so she could request a divorce. The judge took her in and asked her if she wanted to resume living with her husband after 3 to 5 years apart, which I consider to be astonishing for countless reasons. She smartly denied this option and was granted the divorce. Her father and husband were incarcerated for their crimes.

Nujood was not completely alone in her fight. Her lawyer, Shada Nasser, is a noted feminist and women’s rights attorney in Yemen. She has set up numerous programs and support groups for female prisoners and other girls and women like Nujood. Together, their efforts and bravery brought worldwide attention to the struggles of females in Yemen. Nujood now lives with her family and supports them with the royalties from the book she co-wrote with a French journalist. She is in school full time and has regular counseling to deal with all that has happened. The events of her life have not been easy.

Even after gaining the divorce she was poorly received in her home country for shining a “negative light” on Yemen and its culture. Through it all she has remained steadfast in her determination to be a child and a human being who is not owned or controlled by anyone else.

One day while I was brushing my teeth, reading and re-reading the quote on my mirror, I had a thought. What if girls in the U.S. were told stories about girls like Nujood instead of fictional stories like those about the Disney princesses? What if we were told about girls who beat the odds in extraordinary ways because of their own determination? What if girls were told to look up to other real live girls? What if, what if, what if…

I was reading an article about Nujood’s life since her divorce and at the end, just before the comments section, there was an instruction that said “If you are younger than 13 years of age you may read this message board but may not participate.” This stood out for a few reasons. I found it strange that a story about a 12 year old cannot be read by or commented on by a 12 year old. It made me think about the lengths to which we go to in order to protect childhood innocence here in America. It seems more harmful to expose kids to things like mermaids who literally give away their voice for the chance at a man’s love than it is to let kids participate in a relevant discussion and hear explanations of actual events that encourage them to speak up and reject injustice. Couldn’t children learn from Nujood’s story about fighting for a better life as well? And wouldn’t it be more edifying? Protecting younger generations from stories that may be “unpleasant” discredits their analytical abilities and severely limits their potential to turn atrocities into cultural progress.

Nujood’s quote is inspiring to me because it’s the opposite of what you would expect a 10 year old to say. In our culture, little girls are bombarded with thoughts about marriage because it is marketed to them from just about every possible angle. It’s a pretty significant piece to the “dream life” puzzle we all grow up imagining. But at the age of 10, Nujood found out against her will that marriage didn’t necessarily equal bliss, which is something many of us find out to varying degrees as adults. She now thinks of making the world a better place for girls and women. Any person who has the confidence to use their voice for the benefit of others seems like the best type of hero to emulate. Certainly, Nujood is a person whose story should be told and retold for generations to come and I believe young girls would benefit from hearing it.

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  • Jen @ at 5:57 pm, August 27th, 2012

    Actually, that’s a really good story for kids to read. They should know that if a grown up man hurts you or tries to make you do things only for grown ups, you should turn to the law for help. Just as we warn kids about kidnappers, we should warn kids that they have the right to own their own bodies and be safe from painful touches. No need to lose any innocence or go into details. As long as they know that if it hurts, you say no and you ask the law for help.

  • Jessica @ at 12:39 pm, September 17th, 2012

    Thanks for this. I know it is good for me to hear stories like this and realize that there are many atrocities going out outside of my little, fairly comfortable bubble. Still, when I hear stories like this I feel so helpless. I have no clue what I can do to help.

  • Rachel01 @ at 5:23 pm, March 17th, 2013

    I agree with this article. Definitely right about 12 yr
    olds and younger commenting…at sometime another you have to face the real world, too.
    The world needs more girls and women like Nujood.
    Boy, it sure would stop a lot of this violence against women. We only need to speak out, fight back…

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