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When a Girl Has No Rights

In Libya women´s rights must still be fought for
"Women's Rights Red Line" read signs held by women in Tripoli on International Women's Day 2013
When a Girl Has No Rights
A tragic tale of a girl's stolen future.
28/7/2015 | Benghazi

It didn’t matter that I received academic distinctions, my father disapproved of my studies because he couldn’t afford it. He works for a grocery store and barely makes 100 Dinars (US $73) a month, which wasn’t even enough to provide us food for the entire month, sometimes we would end up surviving on water and leftovers. I have one sister, Ritaj. She is seven years younger than me and I also have a brother who is six years older.

Ritaj is not like any other child. She never had a real childhood. She dropped out of school because her classmates bullied her for being poor. She once stole money from her teacher to buy sweets like other children do. But when the teacher found out, she called Ritaj a thief in front of the whole class. Ritaj fell into depression afterwards. She started to hate school – she couldn’t even bear to hear the word “school” anymore. When she turned 12, my father found her a job serving food in a wedding hall for women from eight in the evening until midnight. I once stood in front of my father and asked how he had the heart to send a child of Ritaj’s age to perform such a job. I got a good beating that day. My body still shudders when I remember that incident. My father always threatened my mother with divorce if she disagreed with him. My brother, on the other hand, spent most of his time outside of the house and on some days, he wouldn’t even come back home, we never knew where he went or what he was up to.

When I asked my brother about his life, my father would interrupt me and tell me to leave him alone. My father’s only concern was that brother made his own money and to never ask my father for anything. My father believed that poverty makes real men. I asked my father why he used our poverty to insult us even more, but then he became very angry and violent so I tried my best to avoid him.

Sometimes I stood up to my father, so he thought that the best solution would be for me to get married. His decision to marry me off completely shattered my heart. My whole world collapsed, I always knew my father was harsh but I didn’t think he would sink to this level. I begged him to let me finish my studies, I asked him not to force me to do something that I didn’t want to do. However, he always said that he could not handle being responsible for me and providing for me, I was a heavy burden that he wanted off his shoulders. He also wanted to benefit from my dowry. My father’s justification came as a slap on the face, I felt like a commodity being sold in a market.

Who is this man? How old is he? What level of education does he have? I asked my father.

I don’t know, was his reply.

My father said that he already gave this man his word, and that he wasn’t asking for my opinion, he just came to tell me that I was getting married.

How was it possible for me to live this life knowing that I had no right to defend myself or to decide on my future? According to the Holy Quran, “Call to the way of your Lord with wisdom and goodly exhortation, and have disputations with them in the best manner; surely your Lord best knows those who go astray from His path, and He knows best those who follow the right way.” (Surat Al-Nahel: 125)

I turned to my mother for help, but she couldn’t do anything. She said the only thing I could do was to be happy with my father’s decision. I felt that I was really in trouble. We were not in touch with any relatives that I could have turned to.

My only option was to surrender to marriage, which I knew nothing about, I only knew that it was a big responsibility.

I married “Khaled” a month later. His house was better than ours. Our relationship was very formal, as if he were a total stranger who would only give me my rights according to Sharia Law. He was an animal who abused my body at night; he would then ignore me during the day and leave me to serve him and his family. His mother called me a servant while he called me ignorant. He made fun of my puffy eyes, I cried all the time.

I had no news about my parents. He forbade me from leaving the house. Every time I asked to leave, he would say that women were made for their homes. They were made to serve their husbands and have children.

Once he threw a mobile phone at me and my nose bled. I treated it myself because I didn’t know where to get help. I did not know whether I needed medicine for my bruised body or for my broken soul.

A year went by in the same situation. Every time I spoke about my suffering to his family, they would tell him what I said. He would then come back and insult me.

I was a prisoner living in the dark. I lived alone.

One day, Khaled allowed me to visit my parents. I was like a caged bird who suddenly found freedom. I greeted my mother passionately. I asked her about her how things were and I also asked about my sister. She told me that my 13-year-old sister worked as a maid in a women’s salon. I was shocked but I swallowed my anger and sadness, there was nothing I could do.

My mother asked me about how I was and I completely broke down, she said that it was clear to her how my life was, she could read the bruises on my body.

I told my mother that I wanted a divorce; I told her that any life would be more merciful than the one I was living.

My mother told me that it was impossible. What would people say if they knew that I got divorced?

I did not ask my mother what they would say. I knew that we lived in a society dominated by men who did not care much about what women thought or felt.

They say “a woman is like a glass bottle: once it is breaks, it can never be repaired.” They also say that poverty is the only thing that could be bad about a man.

When will we stop using these traditional sayings that are destructive to women? Praise be to God that the Quran has given women rights and a dignified position in society. On judgment day, we will all be evaluated. There will be no difference between a man and a woman.

A while after my miserable marriage began I was shocked to learn that I was pregnant. Inside of me was a child from that horrible and inhumane man. How could I bring a child into this world knowing that this child will suffer the same fate as me or even a worse?

I then told myself, maybe this child is a gift from God, and perhaps this child will change our lives for the better.

My pregnancy was a disaster. Khaled never really understood what I was going through. He treated me as if I wasn’t pregnant.

I gave birth to a boy. I called him Omar. I prayed that Omar would grow up and give us a good life. However, four months after I gave birth, my husband divorced me. After that I never heard anything about my child. My father takes the alimony and my child support funds.

Money changes people.

This is my story from the past four years and I’m still living it. I am surely not the only one, many Libyan girls are suffering similarly, alone and in silence.

This contribution by 18-year-old Nour Al-Huda Abdul-Hamid Qario from Benghazi, was the winning entry of the Lawyers for Justice in Libya's Abber Competition for human rights expression.



Image: MAHMUD TURKIA/AFP/Getty Images