A SYTYCB entry.
In 2008, a ten year-old Yemeni girl called Nujood Ali walked into a courtroom with four short words. “I want a divorce.”
Now, this is usually the part where all the papers begin to wax lyrical about her big eyes, soft black hair and gentle features as if they’re important so I’ll skip it. Whether she was tall, short, slim or fat at the time, she was ten and married against her will. Nujood got the divorce she asked for, was named Glamour’s Woman of the Year (along with her lawyer Shada Nasser) and her memoirs, published in 2009, were all set to pay for her schooling. So far, so good, so fairytale.
I often wonder what happens after the metaphorical curtain falls. In the films, credits come in when the happy ending is in full swing. Why would the audience want to see an awkward silence as a motley crew realise they have nothing in common, a happy couple have their first argument over the washing up, or the campaigner return home and realise their parents don’t know what to say. It is easier to cross your fingers for our heroes and take the pinnacle of their success as confirmation that everything will be okay. We close the newspaper. We realise we’re hungry so we make some food. We go to work and remember how bad an idea “casual Friday” is. We sleep, we wake and life goes on yet despite the years passing, our non-fictional heroes continue to look like their most famous picture.
For many child brides, ten year old Nujood saved their world. Her case inspired them to fight back. However, Nujood is now fourteen and little seems to be known about what she is doing now. As of 2010, she was reportedly living with her family and attending a private school with the intention of becoming a lawyer, though it would be nice to know for sure that this is the case as other reports have suggested that her family have made it difficult for her to accept scholarships!
Nasser, who refuses to hide her face in court, is considered a hero by many- her work contributed to a change in Yemen’s marriage laws (the legal age is now seventeen whereas previously there was no minimum age) and she still fights for women’s rights in Yemen, despite the risk that doing so poses a threat to her own life. (It is not uncommon for women’s rights advocates to be killed). Still, I could find little information about her and her current work- I hope that this is merely the result of a desire for privacy.
Another of Nasser’s clients is not doing so well. Reem-Al-Numery also resisted marriage at age 10 and received an International Women of Courage Award. According to The Gilded Cage, Reem has been left without the financial aid to enable her to attend school regularly. Even her Wikipedia page is woefully short, citing only that she now lives with her mother.
Sampat Pal Devi hit the BBC news in 2007 for founding the Gulabi (pink sari) Gang- a group of pink sari-wearing, stick-carrying women, who storm police stations and defend women, as well as untouchables from corrupt authorities. “Village society in India is loaded against women”, she says. “It refuses to educate them, marries them off too early, barters them for money. Village women need to study and become independent…” Sampat, a former health worker, even ran for parliament! She only managed to get 2800 votes but her gang is now several hundred strong! There’s already a film about her and another scheduled for release on March 8th, 2013 (International Women’s Day).
So where is she now? Well, her website is still online with a statement of intention- she wanted to teach her women to read and write, as well as sew in order to make a living for themselves. But has any progress been made? There’s no news yet, as it seems that the media are no longer interested in the Gulabi Gang. Hopefully, we’ll hear something next year when the spotlight swings around again…
I can’t help but wonder how strange it must be to be defined for so long by one fight, for it to then be forgotten when the media decide that they have a convenient happy ending. It seems to me that these women can either fight for their cause for as long as they have the strength, and risk being defined by it forever… or leave it behind and continue with life, and be accused of not using their status to help others. Not that there’s a right answer- both options sound just as unappetising to me. It’s something I’m thinking about more and more recently, as a fight against a sex offender that I am determined to win is now moving rapidly. Having named and shamed the man and gathered together a group of women also affected by him, I set something into motion and I’ve already decided to keep fighting. I’m under no illusion that I’m doing anything as incredible as Nujood did. I’m no freedom fighter or superhero. I’m not Batman- I’m definitely not Robin, I’m the person usually named as ‘Woman #2’ in the credits- the one who watches the heroes work from the crowd, but now I’m going to keep watching them, even after the action is over. Because someone has to.