I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced (Ali)

I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced 
Nujood Ali, 2009 (Eng. trans., 2010)
Crown Publishing
192 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780307589675

I’m a simple village girl who has always obeyed the orders of my father and brothers. Since forever, I have learned to say yes to everything. Today I have decided to say no.

Forced by her father to marry a man three times her age, young Nujood Ali was sent away from her parents and beloved sisters and made to live with her husband and his family in an isolated village in rural Yemen. There she suffered daily from physical and emotional abuse by her mother-in-law and nightly at the rough hands of her spouse. Flouting his oath to wait to have sexual relations with Nujood until she was no longer a child, he took her virginity on their wedding night. She was only ten years old.

Unable to endure the pain and distress any longer, Nujood fled—not for home, but to the courthouse of the capital, paying for a taxi ride with a few precious coins of bread money. When a renowned Yemeni lawyer heard about the young victim, she took on Nujood’s case and fought the archaic system in a country where almost half the girls are married while still under the legal age. Since their unprecedented victory in April 2008, Nujood’s courageous defiance of both Yemeni customs and her own family has attracted a storm of international attention. Her story even incited change in Yemen and other Middle Eastern countries, where underage marriage laws are being increasingly enforced and other child brides have been granted divorces.

Recently honored alongside Hillary Clinton and Condoleezza Rice as one of Glamour magazine’s women of the year, Nujood now tells her full story for the first time. As she guides us from the magical, fragrant streets of the Old City of Sana’a to the cement-block slums and rural villages of this ancient land, her unflinching look at an injustice suffered by all too many girls around the world is at once shocking, inspiring, and utterly unforgettable. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio 
Nujood Ali, born in 1998, is a figure of Yemen's fight against forced marriage. At the age of 10, she obtained a divorce, breaking with the tribal tradition.

In November 2008, U.S. women's magazine Glamour designated Nujood Ali and her lawyer Shada Nasser as Women of the Year. Nujood's courage was praised by prominent women including Hillary Clinton and Condoleezza Rice. Nujood's lawyer and fellow recipient Nasser, born in 1964, is herself a feminist and specialist in human rights, whose involvement in Nujood's case received much acclaim.

Nujood Ali was only 10 years of age when her parents arranged a marriage to a man in his 30s. Regularly beaten by her in-laws, raped by her husband, she escaped on April 2, 2008, only two months after the wedding. On the advice of the second wife of her father, she went directly to court to seek a divorce. After one half a day of waiting, she was finally noticed by the judge, Mohammed al-għadha who took it upon himself to host her temporarily and had her father and husband taken into custody.

Shada Nasser agreed to defend Nujood. For the lawyer, it was the continuation of a struggle begun with the installation of her practice in Sana'a, which she opened in the 1990s and the first female law office where she built a customer base by offering services to women prisoners.

Yemeni law allows girls of any age to wed, but it forbids sex with them until the indefinite time they’re "suitable for sexual intercourse." In court, Nasser argued that Nujood’s marriage violated law, since she was raped. Nujood rejected the judge's proposal to resume living together with her husband after a break of three to five years. On April 15, 2008, the court granted her a divorce.

After the trial, Nujood rejoined her family in a suburb of Sana'a. She returned to school in the fall of 2008 with plans to become a lawyer. After the 2009 publication of her memoir, I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced, revenues from international sales of the book were supposed to help pay for her schooling, but she didn't attend on a regular basis. Due to subsequent negative press coverage about Yemen, Nujood's passport was confiscated in March 2009 and she was prevented from attending the Women's World Award in Vienna, Austria. Media reports also questioned whether proceeds from the book were making it to the family.

However, as of 2010 the family is living in a new two-story home bought with the help of her French publisher, and running a grocery store on the first floor. Nujood and her younger sister are attending private school full time.

The English language version of the memoir was published in March 2010. Introducing the work, New York Times op-ed columnist Nicholas Kristof praised the work done to raise awareness regarding the societal problems associated with polygamy and child marriage, saying, "little girls like Nujood may prove more effective than missiles at defeating terrorists." Indeed, publicity surrounding Nujood's case is said to have inspired efforts to annul other child marriages, including that of an 8 year old Saudi girl. (From Wikipedia.)

Book Reviews 
A powerful new autobiography.... It’s hard to imagine that there have been many younger divorcees — or braver ones — than a pint-size third grader named Nujood Ali.
Nicholas Kristof - New York Times

A shocking book that captures the social challenges facing
Yemen better than any scholarly work could hope to do.
Isobel Coleman - Washington Post

One of 16 children living in squalor in Yemen, Nujood was married off at about age 10. Though her husband vowed he'd wait for sex until she reached puberty, he rapes her on their first night together. After months of abuse, Nujood goes to the courthouse, where with heartbreaking naivete, she tells a judge she wants a divorce. Supported by the legal system, Nujood gets her wish. A dividend: Her case has brought international exposure to the archaic practice of robbing girls of their youth half the girls in Yemen are married before age 18. Nujood's story ends with her back in school, given a rare second chance to start her childhood over.

Headlines traveled around the globe in the spring of 2008 when the barely 10-year-old Nujood Ali “found the courage to knock on the [Yemen] courtroom door”; she had come seeking a divorce from the sexually abusive and violent 30-ish man, a marriage arranged by her father. French journalist Minoui renders Ali's life from the young child's perspective without sensationalism, as respectful of Ali's faith as affected by her courage. Through her unwavering focus on Ali's young life and her big victory, on her pre-pubescent innocence and ignorance, the reader is taken inside one poor, recently rural Yemeni household. As Ali's life (“I have always obeyed the orders of my father and brothers”) moves into the public sphere, she discovers (fortunately) the compassionate judges and the dedicated lawyer of a more urbane Yemen. Simple and straightforward in its telling, this is an informative and thoroughly engaging narrative—making more painful a disquieting sense as the book ends that Ali's big victory offers the promise of change to other young girls but no true restoration of her girlhood; she's about 12 now [in 2010, at the time of U.S. publication].
Publishers Weekly

This slim book tells the story of a Yemeni girl married off at a young age (her exact age is unknown, but she was by all accounts still a child) who dared to resist. Raped and beaten by her husband, she did the unheard of: she found her way to a courthouse and insisted on a divorce. Luckily, she was brought to the right people who chose to protect and defend her. Her story is told in simple prose without excess exposition or cultural color. Aspects of her family's difficult social situation are touched on without elaboration, perhaps to protect their honor or perhaps because these were matters that the little girl herself did not understand. The result is heartfelt, as naive as one would expect of an illiterate child relying only on her own drive for self-preservation. VERDICT This will be a favorite book club read. It is too slight to serve most college-level women's studies classes, however, unless paired with more substantial interpretations of the social conditions in Yemen. —Lisa Klopfer, Eastern Michigan Univ. Lib., Ypsilanti
Library Journal

With the assistance of Middle East journalist Minoui, Ali tells the disturbing story of her marriage and subsequent divorce-all by the age of ten. The narrative will be shocking to many Westerners-a young Yemeni girl from a poor family, married off at the age of ten to a man three times her age. Even though the marriage contract stipulated that the husband not consummate the marriage until Ali had reached puberty, the young girl was repeatedly raped and beaten. Steadfastly refusing to accept her horrible fate, a fate that many others had suffered before her, Ali took advantage of a visit to her family in the city to bring her situation before a judge. It's illegal in Yemen to marry off a child before the age of 15, but the young girl still faced an uphill battle, defying not just her husband and father but her society. The unimaginably awful story is told in the voice of the girl, simply and clearly. To read of such distressing events described with the language and understanding of a ten-year-old heightens the impact of the story, but some readers will notice the lack of perspective, since the storyteller is not yet old enough to have it. However, this does nothing to undermine the extraordinary bravery of such a young child in the face of exceedingly adult circumstances. Despite the stylistic simplicity, this memoir will move readers.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions 
1. Honor is obviously very important to the men of Nujood’s family. What does the notion of honor mean in rural Yemeni culture, and how does it differ from Western ideas of honor? When Nujood, Shada, and their allies go to court to seek a divorce for Nujood, what conception of honor are they defending?

2. Nujood mentions a tribal proverb that says “To guarantee a happy marriage, marry a nine-year-old girl.” How does this traditional view of a “happy marriage” differ from the Western view? Are there any ways in which they might be similar?

3. Nujood says that when her family was driven from Khardji, they lost “a small corner of paradise.” How do the injustices endured by Nujood’s father and brother, Fares, show that life in a patriarchal society can be hard not just for women, but for male Yemenis, too? Consider how the actions of Omma, Mona, Nujood’s mother-in-law, Dowla, and Shada reflect differences in their life experiences, personalities, backgrounds, and relationships with Nujood. For example:

4. What do you think Omma was thinking when Nujood told her about the abuse? Can you understand her lack of action?

5. Conversely, why was Dowla willing and able to give Nujood the help and advice that no one else was willing to provide?

6. Were you surprised when one of Nujood’s primary oppressors turned out to be a woman? Nujood’s mother-in-law is a strong personality who treats the young girl harshly and fails to come to her defense on her wedding night. How does this play, paradoxically, into the idea of Yemen as a highly patriarchal society? Do you see any similarity, for example, between the mother- in- law’s behavior and the fact that in some African societies, it is the women who enforce the practice of female circumcision?

7. How do you interpret the behavior of Mona, not only in her attempts to protect Nujood, but in her difficult relationship with her older sister, Jamila?

8. What enables Shada to take up Nujood’s cause so quickly and effectively? How does Shada, whom Nujood calls her “second mother,” open up Nujood’s world? Who else teaches Nujood about what a “real” family can be like?

9. The urban elites Nujood encounters in the courtroom and at the Yemen Times lead very different lives from those of Nujood and the country people of Yemen. How are these “enlightened” people actually disconnected from the rest of their society? For example, Nujood tells us several times that child marriage is common in Yemen, so why did the judges seem so shocked by Nujood’s tender age? Do you think they were unaware of their society’s problem with early marriage, or were they simply blind to the real-life consequences for girls like Nujood? Was there something special about Nujood that prompted the judges to help her, or was she simply the first girl who had come to them asking for a divorce?

10. Shada and Nujood chose the less “elitist” option for Nujood’s schooling. Do you think Nujood made the right decision—to stay in Yemen for her education? Do you think she will become a lawyer and help other girls like herself, as she says she hopes to do? Closer to home, Nujood talks about her protective feelings toward her sisters Mona and Haïfa, and even toward her big brother Fares. Do you think Nujood will be able to protect her siblings? What might stand in her way?

11. How has the international publicity surrounding the divorce affected Nujood’s family and community? Has it enlightened her relatives and neighbors? Or do you think it may have caused dissension within the family and alienated them from their own society?

12. Khat plays a small but sinister role in Nujood’s story. Khat is illegal in the United States, but some people in immigrant communities compare it to coffee and support its important traditional role in social situations. U.S. authorities counter that it is more like cocaine than coffee. After reading this book, what effect do you think khat has on its users and on Yemen in general? Do you feel that it contributed to Nujood’s father’s problems? If so, how? How do you think its use and effects might compare to social drugs in the United States? And most important, what does it tell us about any society that devotes so much of its valuable resources to tuning out from itself, so to speak?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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