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Noora Al Shami

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Yemeni Women Call for Change

Posted: 20/10/2013 23:50

My name is Noora. When I was young, my father was afraid that I'd live in poverty forever. He thought that marriage would be better and that my husband would take care of me.

I cannot describe my suffering when I remember those days. I was married to an animal for ten years. Imagine an 11-year-old child bride? Nobody can understand what it was like. When I recall those days, I couldn't allow my daughter to get married. I didn't want her to endure the same suffering that I had experienced.

After ten years of suffering and losing my dignity, I heard about a project run by the Yemeni Women's Union, and supported by Oxfam, which provides legal protection for women affected by domestic violence. I managed to get a lawyer and then filed for divorce.

But after getting divorced I faced a new reality. Who would feed my three children and take care of my elderly parents? I had to find a job, and worked as a maid while I was studying for my high school diploma. My neighbours used to harass me and say I was a bad woman for getting divorced.

The woman I was working for was the head of the Yemeni Woman Union. She encouraged me to talk about my experiences and asked me to take part in an awareness raising campaign about the need for a safe minimum age of marriage. As a Yemeni woman, I faced many challenges, but I had to stay strong and fight to improve my situation. I started to tell people about the psychological and physical impact child marriage had upon me. I miscarried twice due to the abuse, and I was lucky to survive. I've heard about many young girls who died in childbirth because of the complications during pregnancy and delivery.

Unfortunately the phenomenon of forcing young girls to marry hasn't stopped and we hear sad stories every day.

We want that to change - and believe that change is within our grasp. Over the past six months, negotiations about the future of Yemen have been taking place, called the National Dialogue. This dialogue brings together Yemenis representing different ideologies, parties, and communities, many of whom are ordinary people like me. We want our voice to be heard.

Women make up just less than a third of the people being consulted but for the first time ever we have the chance to fight for equal rights and opportunities ahead of the writing of a new constitution. I asked members of the dialogue to help highlight the issue of child marriage at the conference.

During the dialogue, I had the opportunity to visit parliament to push for a law setting eighteen as a safe minimum age of marriage. This law has been raised many times in Yemen but has never been approved by the government. I'm currently lobbying to ensure the rights of women and children are included in the new constitution.

Many Yemeni women still lack understanding about their rights and entitlements, and even educated women are afraid to speak out. We need civil society organizations to carry out awareness campaigns about the impact of child marriage in rural and urban areas to empower women.

It was like a dream to be chosen to participate in the talks and advocate for women's rights. I was able to campaign to ensure women play a key role in decision-making and make up 30 per cent of government institutions. One of my personal victories at the dialogue was the approval of a new law which gives divorced women the right to housing.

I hope that the national dialogue and the writing of a new constitution brings about changes in the lives of women and not just laws on paper. However, I'm afraid that if the process fails then Yemen may witness a civil war or face a similar situation to Egypt. This would be a disaster not just for Yemenis but also for neighboring countries.

I hope that women will be able to gain their rights and be empowered to gain an education, and speak out against injustices. Women make up half of our society and without them the country would be weak.

I hope that world leaders will continue to support Yemen and help the country succeed at this critical time. I want to make my voice heard and change the lives of women in Yemen.

Women shouldn't have to be victims. I suffered domestic violence but now I'm speaking out. I refuse to live under the ruins of my past.

 
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