Rita Karlsen, HRS
Sammen med to andre jenter skapte Nojuud historie i Jemen i 2008, da de alle søkte skilsmisse. Nå er Nojuuds erfaringer blitt bok, ført i pennen av Delphine Minoui.
Esmerelda Weatherwax har lest boken:
Nujood Ali came to the attention of the world in 2008 at the age of 10 when she entered the Courthouse in Saana the capital of Yemen and kept asking to see a judge. She was shown to a courtroom and sat to wait her turn. Eventually she was the last person present and the man ‘with a curiously gentle voice’ asked,
“And what can I do for you?”
This time I answer promptly. “I want a divorce.”
The book starts with this request and tells the story of how she got that divorce and how she was married to a man three times her age from their home village who offered to take her off her father’s hands.
Nujood is one of the 16 children born just outside the remote village of Khardji to her father’s first wife. Nujood has no birth certificate and her mother cannot remember her date of birth. At the time she begins her story she thinks she is aged 10. Her father’s second wife, who Nujood calls Aunt Dowla, has five children. Her father, when not breeding children seemed to spend most of his time in bed or squatting in the street while chewing the narcotic khat, happy for his wives and children to go out to beg for their food, or sell almost all their meagre possessions.
Her early descriptions of life in the village sound happy, despite the poverty, and she has an eye for natural beauty, taking delight in the rays of the sun breaking through rain clouds and the smell of home baked bread and local honey.
One day the family had to leave Khardji for Sana’a, the capital. Later Nujood found out that her older sister Jamila was raped by the husband of another sister, Mona, who was married at age 13 after being raped by him first. Jamila ended up in prison for adultery, her husband also vanished and Mona’s mother-in-law snatched her babies. The neighbours ordered them out of the village at gunpoint. Perhaps because she was deprived of her own children, Mona took Nujood under her wing, as did Auntie Dowla. Nujood attended school for a while and loved it. She learnt the Koran and the five pillars of Islam, how to write her name and how to count up to 100.
Then she overheard the following conversation.
“Nujood is way too young to get married,” Mona insisted.
“Too young? When the prophet Mohammed wed Aisha, she was only 9 years old,” replied Aba
“. . . Listen, this marriage, it’s the best way to protect her . . . She will be spared the same problems you and Jamila had. . . she won’t be raped by a stranger and become the prey of evil rumours. This man seems honest . . . known in the neighbourhood . . . comes from our village. And he has promised not to touch Nujood until she is older.
Besides you know we haven’t enough money to feed the whole family. So this will mean one less mouth.”
Her husband’s family demanded that she leave school and she was married within two weeks. Her father was paid 150,000 rials or $750. Her wedding dress was an old tunic that had once belonged to her new sister-in-law and as she left her home, her mother handed her a black niqab.
“From this day on you must cover yourself when going out into the street. You are now a married woman. Your face must be seen by no one but your husband. . . his sharaf, honour is at stake. And you must not disgrace it.”
All the way in the back of a hired car to Khardji she fought back vomiting from under the niqab. On arrival she met her mother-in-law.
“As of tomorrow I’m going to teach the child to work like the rest of us. And I certainly hope she has brought some money with her. . . We’ll show her how to be a woman.”
And then her husband broke his promise to her father.
“Ya beint! Hey girl!” That’s what he would yell before throwing himself on me. He never said my first name. It was on the third day that he began hitting me. . . She would tell him hoarsely “Hit her even harder. She must listen to you – she’s your wife.”
She persuaded her husband to return to Sana’a to visit her family. Her father forbad her to leave her husband and her mother could not or would not assist. But Auntie Dowla was made of different stuff. She told Nujood that she needed to see a Judge and gave her 200 rials, the result of a whole morning begging at the intersection. Then next morning her mother gave her 150 rials to buy the breakfast bread. Anonymous under the hated niqab, that sum was sufficient to pay for a taxi to “The Courthouse”.
We know from the title that Nujood got her divorce, although not that day. The first judge called three brother Judges. I am used to a court system with family liaison officers, court welfare officers, child protection units although even with all that too many children die because the bosom of their family is not a safe place.
In Yemen there are no such things. The three Yemeni Judges were, to their credit, aghast that she was married and the marriage consummated so young. The age should be 15, despite the Yemeni proverb, ‘to guarantee a happy marriage, marry a nine year old girl’. She could not be sent back to her parents so Judge Abdel Wahed took her into his own home where, holding a doll belonging to his daughter, she began to tell him and his wife her story.
News got round of the little girl in court, demanding a divorce. Shada Nasser a women’s rights lawyer took up her case. There were further hearings with lies told in evidence by her husband. Eventually Nujood got her divorce and a chocolate cake to celebrate, but there isn’t a happy ending yet.
Money earned from the sale of this book and from Glamour magazine has been placed in a trust fund for Nujood. She returned to a new school with joy but that first place wasn’t a success. She fasted for Ramadan as an adult for the first time and found a second school where she and her younger sister are finally learning to read and write. She wants to be a lawyer like Shada to defend other girls and campaign for the age for marriage to be raised higher. Maybe to as high as 22. She vows to wear high heels and never wear a niqab again.
“Marriage was invented to make girls miserable. I will never get married again, not ever again”.
Her headmistress had stories to tell of other pupils who left aged 13 and were married with a baby within the year. Two other girls, Arwa and Rym, aged 9 and 12 respectively heard of what Nujood did and applied for their own divorces. Her younger sister is safe at the moment from a young marriage. The age of marriage was raised in Yemen to 17, then after opposition, this law was repealed as unislamic and sent back for reconsideration. Women (and I hazard a guess that Nujood’s ex mother-in-law is such a one) object as it is contrary to what their beloved Mohammed did. And as they suffered so why shouldn’t the next generation suffer also?
On the down side her brothers resent the attention their sister receives. Neither they nor the father will work and their mother is in poor health. Nujood, Shada and other campaigners have been accused of showing Yemen in a poor light. Some regard her rebellion as meriting an honour murder. But the last paragraph describes her working on a picture of a house.
“It’s the house of joy. The house of happy little girls.”
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