In a world where thousands of news stories, Twitter feeds, and text messages vie for my attention I’ll admit it takes a lot to truly grab my eye—but when a friend sent me a link last week about 13-year-old child bride Elham Assi, who died after being forced into sex with her adult husband, I froze.
Trying to hold it together, my thoughts went to another Yemeni girl, Nujood Ali, who made headlines as the first child bride to legally obtain a divorce from her husband. As my companion for two weeks in November 2008 when I helped Glamour magazine honor her as a Woman of the Year, she taught me about a life very different from my own and ultimately became the inspiration for me to join IWHC this year.
What Nujood gives the world is hope: not just because of her bravery in the courtroom, but because of her unwavering spirit. I can still hear her laughter as we played the picture game Memory in her hotel, her wide-eyed exclamations looking at dinosaur bones at the Natural History Museum, and, most vividly, her strong voice as she told U.N. officials her story and her dreams of becoming a lawyer to help other little girls like herself.
IWHC and our partners have been working tirelessly with local communities and policymakers to empower young girls against this harmful tradition. But until child marriage becomes a thing of the past, Nujood is continuing to reach out to other girls. Her memoir, I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced, hit European bookstores late last year and was released in English this month. I was blown away by Nujood’s determination to break free from her husband and am awed by her courage in telling the story. Recently I read that she has already donated part of the book’s proceeds to help free a 12-year-old Yemeni girl from her much older husband. Nujood, skilled at both hop-scotch and humanitarian work, is my constant reminder to work a little bit harder every day to help ensure a just, healthy, and happy life for girls and women everywhere. With Nujood lighting the way, how can we not follow?