10 year old Yemeni girl smiling after she was granted a divorce from her husband—a grown adult. (distractify.netdna-cdn.com)
This photo was taken by Stephanie Synclair of National Geographic and was recently selected as one of the 60 most powerful photos ever taken. This is the moment Nujood is granted her divorce.
Years ago one of my best teachers said to me, “Meagan if you want to know if there is democracy in a country look at the status of women and girls.”
I have never forgotten this.
Today when I read the title of the book, I am Najood, Age 10 and Divorced, I thought of what he taught me and what a story like this means—what it means for the story of democracy, the story of the status of women and girls, and the story of “us” people, humanity.
At first I read a sentence like that—age 10 and divorced—and it feels like something other than this life. Maybe it was written years ago? Maybe it’s fiction?
And then I realize that this is now. This is life. This is happening.
According to The Gaurdian, Nujood is Yemen’s youngest divorcee (though to be fair, Nujood did not know her real age). The bold author and activist, whose story is bringing voice to the issue of forced and child marriage, has claimed all of the monies raised from the book have been paid to her father.
These are tragic facts of modern life.
Learn more about Nujood in a story featured on Dateline:
Maybe hours before I was shown the cover of this book I read an article published on Slate documenting the proposed law in Iraq to legalize marriage for girls as young as nine, the current legal age is 18.
If we keep doing what we are doing (which kind of seems like almost nothing) this thing that it isn’t new will only get worse. According to the International Center for Research on Women if trends for forced marriage continue on their current path, “38,000 girls will be married every day for the next ten years.” Moreover, the Center claims that pregnancy is the leading cause of death worldwide for girls aged 15 -19.
These same girls are at greater risk for poverty, disease, and interpersonal violence.
This video was produced by the Council on Foreign Relations:
As I write these words I can sense the urge (maybe even in myself) to think this is something that happens “over there” or in the “developing” world, whatever, basically a lot of euphemisms for a problem—that while terrible—isn’t really our problem.
A few yeas ago I went to a conference in Dallas dedicating to three days to talk about violence against women in America. There I met an inspiring and audacious pair of women who were helping young girls escape forced marriage in the United States, The Tahirih Justice center, based in Boston, MA. I heard stories of midnight rescues, new identities, and teams of people working to make sure young girls aren’t forced to marry against their will. These girls wanted opportunity, education, the chance to find true love, maybe the opportunity to explore their sexuality, and often had to flee and begin new lives for these things we may forget are even considered opportunities.
I have spent years working on the issue of human trafficking in the United States, and while the issue was not new to me I was surprised by the scope and depth of the problem. In 2011 the center documented over 3,000 cases of known or suspected forced marriages in 47 states of the course of two years. This is just not something that happens only “over there.”
Why am I writing all of this? What does it have to do with a young girl who managed to divorce the man she was forced to marry at the age of 10?
I am writing it because it is all connected. The story of Nujood is in so many ways the story of women and girls around the world, and the United States is in no way isolated from the problem. Child marriage. Forced marriage. Nujood allegedly not being able to earn the profits from her own book.
As I write this the United States Senate has blocked the Fair Pay Check Act. All of these things are connected.
The story of Nujood is the story of women and girls and that is in part the story of democracy and us. We are doing a terrible job with the narrative. In 1792 Mary Wollstencraft wrote in A Vindication of the Rights of Women, “I do not wish them [women] to have power over men, but over themselves.”
And here I am, still writing in 2014.
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Editor: Renée Picard
Photo Credit: Stephanie Synclair