All over the world, women and young girls fall victim to heinous laws that fail to protect them.
The number of women who face gender-based violence is appalling. Standing at one in three, it is very likely that each one of us knows at least one woman who has or will be a survivor. Women’s rights activists have taken it upon themselves to share harrowing accounts of women being raped, beaten, subjected to humiliation and abuse in order to raise awareness on just how prominent these issues are through the #MeToo movement.
Recently, one account of a 19-year-old Sudanese girl fighting for her life has taken Twitter, and the world, by storm. As I scrolled through my feed one afternoon, I couldn’t believe what I was reading. Hundreds of people were tweeting out #JusticeForNoura and retelling the disturbing account of a young girl who has fallen victim to the patriarchal laws of her country.
At 16, Noura’s father tried to force her to marry a man she didn’t love. She ran away from home and ended up living in her aunt’s house for two years. Although she was only 250 km away, Noura was able to continue her education. That all changed when she received word that her family no longer wanted to marry her off and that they were waiting to welcome her home.
Under the pretense that her family wanted to reconcile with her, Noura made her way back home.
As soon as she arrived it was apparent that her father had no intention of keeping his promise. The wedding ceremony was underway and she was forcefully handed over to her “husband.” Days later, after she had refused to sleep with him numerous times, her husband forced himself upon her as his male relatives held her down. When he tried to rape her again the next day, Noura fought back harder and stabbed him in self-defense.
Her parents turned her into the police and completely disowned her. Since the courts do not criminalize marital rape, they tried Noura for pre-meditated murder. On May 10, she was sentenced to death. Her legal team has 15 days since the sentencing to appeal the decision.
Unfortunately, Noura’s story is not the first of its kind. And while activists have been trying to do everything they can to ensure that she is not criminalized for defending herself, they are also trying to bring attention to gender-discriminatory laws in Sudan in general in hopes of abolishing them and introducing laws that protect the country’s women.
According to ElHassan, she knows many women who have been “married off against their will, who suffered in silence at the hands of their husbands, whose families had all but abandoned them and/or who tacitly or actively supported their husbands’ (and their families’) abuse.”
The only difference here is that they could not silence Noura anymore. Since no one else was going to protect her from this man, she had to defend herself.
While most of the messages on social media were positive, it was unsurprising that others condemned Noura and even defended her husband. According to them, she had no right to refuse her husband’s advances. It is a woman’s duty to obey her man, and if she refuses, then she must face the consequences. However, they always fail to consider the fact that she did not consent to be married, a right that women have in Islam.
It baffles me that we live in a world where some people are quick to defend a rapist who enlisted the help of other men so that he could force himself upon her.
It angers me that we live in a world where a woman’s right to her own body is meager compared to her husband’s right to her’s. But what enrages me the most is the fact that we don’t allow women to consent to their own marriages and to their own sexual encounters.
We strip them of their right to their own bodies. The right to not be humiliated and abused.
We continue to pick out pieces of the narrative from religious scripts or cultural traditions that suit us best without thinking of the ramifications of our actions or understanding what they really mean.
It’s time we stop treating women’s bodies like objects. Our bodies are not theirs for the taking. Standing in solidarity is no longer enough.
We have to fight for all the Noura’s in the world who could not stand up for themselves the way she did.
We have to fight for the women who continue to suffer because no one fought hard enough for them. It is our responsibility to make sure that we do everything we possibly can, whether it’s by spreading the word or actively promoting a cause, to protect women and girls everywhere.