The Girl I Was – Another Look

Photo by Stephanie Sinclair, founding photojournalist of Too Young To Wed.

The girl on the cover looks beautiful to me, her wry laugh, her iron illusion, her palpable fear captivate me. I’m 12 years old and tripping over my aunts bags coming from one airport and leaving another, buying books in between. The book is called My name is Nuyud, I am 10 years old and divorced, I laugh, it’s impossible for a girl so young to be married or have had time to divorce. I steal the book because I know that by chance I can never read what I want. They discuss what I should read and it ends up with negatives that don’t compensate me. I read it secretly, as if it were a secret. Page by page, word by word, I think I’m getting closer to feeling the pain of this girl, whose body I imagine small, vulnerable, with years ahead of her to become what we understand as a woman today. I understand the disproportionate effort that so many girls are forced to make today to approach “being a woman” that they don’t yet know how to be. In Asia in places like Thailand or Afghanistan, in Latin America like El Salvador or Colombia, in Africa in Kenya or in my country, Morocco. Not being from Yemen or Afghanistan, I know what it means to hear the word marriage, wedding, husband, from such a young age. For this you do not need to grow up in an environment that forces you to suffer through marriage, it is enough to see 20-year-old pregnant women with two daughters in the markets, young girls who have devoted themselves to cleaning rich houses and who tie themselves to chest or back daughter or son aged 6. If you do the math, you understand that they didn’t want it, if you bend your ear, you see what the concept of “forced marriage” hides; domestic violence, abuse of minors, which in the long run turns into marital rape, reduced psychology, violence in all its forms. The early imposition of being a woman has disastrous effects on the psyche of girls. From their bodily invisibility to their hypersexualization, they are practices that cripple the childhood and early years of many girls. There is no culture that overrides the rights of minors. There is no price for the obligation to tell the truth. Violence is nothing more than the best hangover your inner girl hides in, trying to figure out what’s unfair or what it means to come into the world as a woman. Working to eradicate violence becomes a moral, feminist and humanitarian obligation for me.

There are 10 million girls today who are at risk of being married against their will. A will that cannot exist, a completely flawed consent that nevertheless leaves us with the reality that every 2 seconds a girl is forcibly married. Now, many years later, I understand the true meaning of what I could not decipher then, albeit prematurely and ahead of my age. Today I am thinking of Nina, who became pregnant at 13 in El Salvador; in Kitara, who, after undergoing female genital mutilation, died in childbirth aged 17 in Somalia; in Meriem, who lost her life in a clandestine abortion performed on her in Morocco at the age of 14. Forced marriages violate girls’ dignity, convincing them that the only way to be a woman is through suffering.

A month ago, in a telematics presentation, I saw Nujud’s face again in Yemen. Today I don’t know how it will be, what kind of life he will have. Jessica, who was on the other side of the camera, told me that the person who took this photo, who I recognized, was the founder of the NGO for which I now lead the European Public Policy and Advocacy department. Too young to marry This is the project of a brilliant photojournalist who unknowingly inspired me to dedicate myself to the lives of girls and women, to understand their lives, their fears, their needs. To appeal to the conscience of an international community. This image that one day influenced the girl I was is part of the story of women and men fighting for a more just world. When Stephanie decided to create this project on a day like today, I was 14 years old. She was unaware of the impact her work was having on a girl in a town in a North African country. Telling her this story, she told me with her smile and her love for her work that I also become a role model for other girls who are now 10, 12 or 18 years old. Thinking about it as the days go by, I tell myself that I wish we didn’t have to be referents. I wish the girls not to look for a mirror of justice to look into to relive their experiences emotionally, I wish them a life without violence. I wish we don’t miss this feminist relay where professions like law, journalism, photojournalism, humanitarian work have changed the lives of so many girls and women. I wish this work was unnecessary, and it isn’t, that there would be fair, just, egalitarian societies. However, our work is a reflection of a world still moving according to UNICEF data with the possibility of 160 million girls being victims of forced marriage before 2030.

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