Every so often, women reach me wanting to tell their stories. A few years ago, I set up a space for this called Yalla Feminists. In Arabic, the word yalla means come on, let’s go, move it, keep going — and so much more. The idea was to create a platform for those who have something to say, and not enough places — or not enough freedom — to say it. We all have a voice, but sometimes what we need is a microphone!
Recently a 43-year old woman from Jordan reached out to me wanting to share her story. Jordanian women are still fighting for equal rights — just like we are everywhere else. They face discrimination in the law and in the legal codes that determine what they can — and can’t— do. Their freedoms are limited, and their protections too few. Jordanian women need the permission of a male guardian to marry and to travel with their children. Additionally, they face all forms of violence against women. That’s true everywhere, too.
This story comes from a woman who faced discrimination in the context of her family. The full story can be found here. It is important that her story is shared and that her voice is heard. Ultimately, we should all do more to share — and hear — women’s stories — particularly when they may not feel safe enough to do so themselves.
She has asked to remain anonymous.
I was raised in a house where I was told a girl’s weapon is her degree. I had to study hard and have excellent grades so my parents would be proud of me. Speaking about marriage and relationships was forbidden at our house. I was told “a girl is like a glass, once broken it can never be fixed again.”
I fell in love but was denied my right to marry the person I chose… he told me “you are too innocent for me.” Despite all those years passed, I am still not sure if I liked the comment or not.
I started my new career and I met people from different countries. Again there was this amazing guy who started talking to me. Maybe because he was the only person who was persistent despite my resistance he was able to get me to have a relationship with him. What bothered me the most during this time was thinking remembering the glass metaphor and what my family would do if they knew that I was dating someone from a different culture. This relationship didn’t last after all.
One day a guy from my same culture and a “prestigious” family suddenly visited our house looking for a traditional and arranged marriage! My family approved as he came from a well-known family and was educated and they were proud. For me, this was a big NO. I resisted and told the guy I refused to marry him. Luckily he disappeared.
My sister learned about my previous relationship. She said “you know the rules well, this is not acceptable.” This was another reminder for me that love and marriage were a No for me.
Years after, I met another guy who was nice and funny but my brothers did not approve. My brothers made the decision to threaten the guy and he disappeared.
Ironically, an opportunity to have a masters in Human Rights in England came to my doorstep… my youngest brother did not like it and kept making comments I chose to ignore.
I came back with my Masters’ degree and decided fate was telling me to continue with my career path. Marriage is not what life is about. I was getting older and in the Arab world women after the age of 30 have less chances to get married. The game was over for me! Then I met this amazing, young, handsome, caring, funny and open minded guy! An old friend who knows my family very well told me “your family will not approve, he does not fit the criteria!” I told my friend “I am in my forties, it is my decision.”
At the end of the day, it is MY life and I have the full right to decide for myself. Unfortunately, it was not the case . No one supported me, my mother and my sister manipulated me and thought only of their own interests. My brothers worried about my inheritance and what portion they were going to take. For them, they were not convinced that someone would marry an “old woman in her forties” and that he must be interested in my money.
I was afraid they would hurt him. My brother told him “we come from a big tribe and your family don’t want to mess with us.” I told my family that I would take the case to the court, and if they did not allow me I would leave the family house. They went crazy and my brother said he would kill me and that I was not allowed to leave the house. Finally, my mum took action because she was scared I would go and raise the issue on social media and with the police.
She convinced my brother to let me go to my work and she would talk to me about disregarding the issue. I was scared he would get hurt so I asked him to step back for a bit until my issue with my family was solved. I did not also want to give up my inheritance rights, so thought let me be smart and tell them the issue was resolved and I would get my finances in order and then raise the issue again.
However, they were smarter, and things did not go the way I thought they would go. His father insisted that he get married. Both left heartbroken but we could not say or do anything to our families. I am sure my brothers spoke to his father.
So there I was in my forties, fully aware of my religious and legal rights and I was not able to live a life I chose. Of course my family learnt about his marriage and they told me if he really loved you he would not have married. He wanted your money and wanted to misuse your social status. It has been more than a year, I still cannot be the same person as before.
I am worried If I tell the story to anyone they might think the same way as my family about him and think I am overreacting. I am not sure if anyone can feel how disappointed and victimized I feel. I also feel for him, even though someone might say — but he is a man. He is a man — but I know my family, and know that what they threatened the other guy with 15 years ago, they would have done the same to him.
How long are we supposed to accept that our future is decided by the family and the society? How can we change this? I am worried about my nieces and what the future holds for them. I hope they can live with freedoms that I was not able to have.
Gender based violence is not only about physical abuse. Mental abuse is way worse, the laws which restrict our freedoms are violating our rights.
Please let’s talk about those as well.