At 12, Reem Al Numery refused to marry her 30-year-old cousin. Frustrated, her father bound and gagged the little girl, forcing her—literally voiceless—to become yet another Yemeni child bride. But Reem would not be silenced. Last year, after demanding and finally obtaining a divorce, Reem was honored by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the International Women of Courage awards. This week, she was named one of Time magazine’s Most Influential People in the World—and the exciting thing is that at just 14, she really does have influence.
As more and more stories of courageous child brides seeking divorce make headlines, world leaders are taking notice and pressuring governments to not only create, but enforce laws that prohibit early marriage. At the same time, girls at risk of being married off too early (and that means most girls in Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and other countries where this abusive tradition is practiced) have heard Reem’s story and others like hers, and are increasingly asking for their own freedoms.
But Reem, or any of the other girls who have been granted divorces, could not do this alone. There are many people ready to help this fight for freedom in countries where women, let alone girls, have few rights. One of the strongest leaders in this battle is Yemeni human rights lawyer Shada Nasser. Born into a liberal family in southern Yemen, Shada was encouraged to pursue a full education, went to law school and later became one of the first female lawyers in Yemen’s capital, Sanaa. A mother two, including a young daughter, Shada is determined to stand up for girls and young women who are discriminated against, denied their human rights, and placed in peril by their society. Her work has won her accolades—and plenty of opposition—but she continues her defense of girls and is working to help enforce the newly raised legal age of marriage in her country.
What can you do to help brave girls like Reem and the amazing advocates like Shada who stand with them? First, contact your Representatives and Senators and ask them to support the International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act which would support programs in countries around the world to empower girls against early marriage and promote community understanding of the damage this practice causes to girls and their communities. Second, consider buying Nujood Ali’s autobiography, which tells her story of getting married when she was just eight years old and how she became the first child bride to legally obtain a divorce in Yemen. Last? Talk about these brave girls with your friends and colleagues. The more we use our voices to amplify theirs, the faster we can make progress toward a world where children are allowed to be children, and all women and girls can lead just and healthy lives.