Monday, September 14, 2009

R.I.P. Fawziya Ammodi

I believe, for the most part, that I know what cultural differences are. I think that I recognize them fairly readily and am pretty accepting of viewpoints foreign to me. Coming from two opposite cultures helps, of course, as does the fact that I have been educated (as well as the U.S. could provide) and take interest in a wide range of topics.

One thing that gets me every single time I see it is oppression via brute force. In this day and age, with the iPhone providing stock market stats, CNN blaring news 24 hours a day, and the internet promising instant access to everything and anything, I find it amazing, impossible, that people are still tortured, forced into unhappiness, or even killed. I find it amazingly appalling that these victims are being used and abused by their families rather than sworn enemies or escapees of insane-asylums.

The issue of child brides has been around for years and years, and I know that there are many countries that still cling to this (antiquated and horrible) tradition. It first came to the forefront of my buzzing little brain last year, when I read an article about Nujood Ali, who was just ten years old at the time.

Nujood's parents married her off in February to a man in his 30s whom she describes as old and ugly.

Her parents said they thought they were putting her in the care of her husband's family, but Nujood said he would often beat her into submission.

Nujood then turned to her family for mercy.

"When I heard, my heart burned for her; he wasn't supposed to sleep with her," said Nujood's mother, who asked not to be identified.

But, initially, she also told her daughter she could not help her -- that she belonged to her husband now.

Nujood's father, Ali Mohammed Ahdal, said he is angry about what happened to his daughter. "He was a criminal, a criminal. He did hateful things to her," he said. "He didn't keep his promise to me that he wouldn't go near her until she was 20."
I can and do blame her parents for what happened to their little girl. She was beaten, tormented, and raped by someone old enough to be her father. She was abused at a time in her life when her biggest worry should have been grades at school and games with friends.

Her father makes me laugh. Really?? Your ten-year-old's thirty-something husband PROMISED you that your daughter wouldn't be touched for an entire decade? You're shocked, SHOCKED, about your son-in-law's conduct? Your son-in-law who is probably your own age, if not older??

What is the mentality of such a culture?
Many times girls are forced to marry older men, including some who already have at least one wife, Oxfam said. According to tribal customs, the girls are no longer viewed as a financial or moral burden to their parents.

"There is always a fear that the girl will do something to dishonor the family: She will run away with a guy, she will have relations with a boy. So this is always the phobia that the families have," said Suha Bashren of Oxfam International.
Is that not ridiculous? For fear that their daughters will "dishonor" their families, they are married off before even going through puberty. For fear of something that hasn't happened, may never have happened, these girls are being put in terrible situations.
In Yemen, there is nothing new or extraordinary about Nujood's story because children have been married off for generations. The country's legal minimum age for marriage was 15 till a decade ago, when the law was changed to allow for children even younger to be wed.

But what is most unusual is that this young girl took such an intensely private dispute and went public with it.

Nujood said she made up her mind to escape from her husband, describing how on a visit to her parents' home she broke free and traveled to the central courthouse across town and demanded to speak to a judge.

"He asked me, 'What do you want?' And I said, 'I want a divorce.' And he said, 'You're married?' And I said, 'Yes,'" she recalled.

What unfolded in those few days in April gripped the country on the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula.

Nujood got her divorce, but based on the principles of Islamic Sharia law, her husband was compensated, not prosecuted. Nujood was ordered to pay him more than $200. The human rights lawyer who represented her donated the money.

But for this determined spirit, it was still a sweet victory.

"I did this so that people would listen and think about not marrying their daughters off as young as I was," she said with a shy smile.

Now back at the family home, she said she won't go outside to play -- that all the attention bothers her. Some still condemn the young girl for speaking out, believing that she shouldn't have challenged convention.

Human rights advocates said it will take more than a generation if this practice is to change in Yemen for other children.
Yes, yes, I'm sure there are the "good" examples. Girls that are married off to men twice their age, too young to be in love, but at least they aren't raped or beaten. What an ideal life for every girl to look forward to! What great playground conversation!

"My husband hit me yesterday with a cricket bat, at least yours doesn't do that to you."

Wow. That's the life I always envisioned for myself. Fairytale ending to a very short life, no?

The reason that I looked up the story about the 10-year-old divorcee was an article about Fawziya Ammodi on today. Fawziya, a 12-year-old, died during childbirth. Another Yemeni girl, too young to drive a car or have a drink (and hoo boy, would I need a drink if I was in her shoes), stuck in a terrible relationship. I cannot imagine that she willingly consummated her marriage to a 24-year-old man.
While it was not immediately known why Fawziya's parents married her off, the reasons vary. Sometimes, financially-strapped parents offer up their daughters for hefty dowries.

Marriage means the girls are no longer a financial or moral burden to their parents. And often, parents will extract a promise from the husband to wait until the girl is older to consummate the marriage.
This girl was in labor for three days and bled to death. That is no way for anyone to die, much less a child bride who had to grow up far too fast.

What really breaks my heart is the fact that this little girl, had she and her baby lived, would have been a child trying to become an adult and become her own person while she raised a whole other little person. How is that possible?

I cannot even fathom me, at 27, having a baby right now.

What else has to happen, who else needs to die, in order for something to be done about this? Not just in Yemen, and not just for the abused girls. Any girl, any person, should have a choice and a say in what happens to them. That's all I want for people. Choices and opportunities.