Culture of Obedience. The story of a girl from Yemen who obtained a divorce at age 9

 Nujood Ali, who was not afraid to go against the system early on and defend her right to divorce her abusive husband in court, became a "Woman of Peace" in 2008. Together with the French writer Delphine Minoui, she wrote an autobiography in which she recounted her difficult experience


Yemen is a Muslim country where women's rights are very limited. It is accepted that the man decides in the family, whom the wife must obey. There is no shame in marrying off your daughter at the age of eight, which is exactly what happened to Noujoud Ali. But her story did not follow the usual scenario: as a young girl, she found the strength to go to court to obtain a divorce from a man who physically and mentally abused her and was several times her age. Her lawyer was Shadeh Nasser, Yemen's first female lawyer. In mid-May, Bombora publishes the girl's autobiography, titled "I'm Ten Years Old and Divorced." Forbes Woman publishes an excerpt about the heroine's first trip to court.

I automatically pulled my hair into a knot, tucked it under a black handkerchief, and put on a black bedspread-the usual attire for women in Yemen outside the house. On shaky legs, I walked to the bus stop and got on the first bus to the city center. I reached the terminus, and then, for the first time in my life, I mustered all my courage to get into a cab alone.


There was an endless line in the courtyard in front of the courthouse. I feel my eyes on me - three boys are staring at me, who have settled by the stairs in front of the entrance. They are wearing plastic sandals, and the real color of their skin cannot be discerned behind the dust nailed to it. These boys remind me of little brothers.

- Want to know your weight? Only ten rials! - shouts the first one, shaking the old scales.


- Perhaps you would like some tea? - says the second one, pointing to a basket of cups.


- Or some carrot juice? - The third one is kind enough to say.


No thanks, I don't want anything. No food, no water, let alone weigh myself! Oh, if you only knew why I came here...


In total confusion I stood and tried to look like a judge in the crowd. The women in black robes resembled each other like drops of water. Suddenly I notice a man in a suit - could it be him? Or was it a lawyer?

- Excuse me, sir, I need a judge.


- A judge? He's inside, take the stairs," he murmured, not even giving me a glance.


Well, I have no choice but to change my life. Step by step, I pushed my way to the door-it was difficult, because every step was crowded with people who took their time letting others in. At one point I almost fall, but I manage to stay on my feet. I'm scared, but I can't cry - I think I've cried out all my tears.


The walls in the court are white, like in a hospital, and there are many signs on them with inscriptions in Arabic. I try to understand what is written on them, but I can't. I can't read or write (only my name - Nuzhud) because I was forced to drop out of school in the second grade.



Then my gaze falls on the men in green uniforms-it's definitely military or police: they have machine guns hanging from their shoulders. There's another wave of fear. I'm sure I'll be arrested if they see me. On stiff legs I walk up to the first woman I see, just to get out of the sight of these men. My inner voice whispers that I am a clever girl and that I will definitely succeed.


- I need to talk to the judge!


The eyes in the black frame flashed with surprise-the woman didn't notice as I approached.


- What?


- I need to talk to the judge!

Won't she help me, too, and pretend she doesn't understand?


- What kind of judge do you need?


- I don't know, I just need a judge.


- But there are so many judges here.


- Take me to a judge, any judge, whatever!

The woman seemed stunned, either by my insistence or by my high-pitched voice.


I'm just an ordinary girl, raised in the countryside and accustomed to obeying men. I WAS TAUGHT FROM BIRTH TO SAY YES TO EVERYTHING. BUT TODAY I'M GOING TO LEARN TO SAY NO. I've suffered too much and I won't let anyone tell me what to do anymore. The trial is my last chance, and I'm not just going to give up. The three hours I've spent wandering the halls can't go in vain.


- All right, let's go," the woman answers and makes a sign for me to follow her.


I am led into a felt-covered room. A moustachioed man sits at a table against the far wall and vainly fends off the barrage of questions that are poured at him from all sides. It is the judge! Above him on the wall hangs a picture of Amma Ali. At school we were taught to call him "Uncle Ali" - he is the president of Yemen, Ali Abdallah Saleh, elected over thirty years ago.


I don't know how to behave and so I repeat after the other people in the room. Everyone waiting for the judge sits down in dark brown chairs - I do the same.


It's noon, and I can hear the muezzin's voice coming from afar, calling for prayer. Gradually I begin to notice familiar eyes - there are many people jostling beside me on the street. They're clearly surprised by my presence-well, at least they've finally noticed me.

Lord, if you exist, you will not leave me. I have always been obedient - I prayed diligently five times a day, I helped my mother and sisters at the feast of Aida (the feast celebrated at the end of Ramadan).


I'm just a child - God is supposed to help children...


I begin to get a little wet - different pictures appear before my eyes. I see the sea - I am swaying gently on its waves. But suddenly it begins to stir and boil. I see Phares, my older brother, but I can't reach him because of the storm. I shout to him, but the wind carries the words away. In a panic, I start to move my arms and legs as hard as I can, and I turn into a huge, powerful propeller - I have to swim away from the shore at all costs. I am forcefully pulled back, I can hardly see Phares anymore... Help me! I will not go back to Khargee, no, I don't want to go there any more!


- How can I help you?


The stranger's voice sounds very gentle and friendly. This is the first man who does not raise his voice to me.

He's whispering, but I can hear him just fine. What words! Finally someone is ready to help me! Trying to come to my senses, I realize that the judge is the mustachioed one. I seem to have been silent for too long, and he anxiously asks the question in a slightly different way:


- So what do you want?


The answer quickly rolls off my tongue:


- Divorce!


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