I met her outside of Dylan's Candy Store in New York City's Upper East Side. It was before she accepted her Glamour Magazine's Woman of the Year Award under the glare of the bright lights of Carnegie Hall. She hid quietly under the comforting posture of her lawyer, Shada Nassar, and the interpreter assigned to her for the day. But here was a girl who was strong beyond measure.
Nujood Ali was married at the age of nine to a man three times her age. It's not an uncommon practice. Roughly half of Yemeni girls are married before 18, some as young as 8 years old. But it's unusual and unlawful for those marriages to be consummated before the bride turns 15. But in Nujood's case, her husband didn't wait. And after enduring several weeks of abuse, Nujood one morning boarded a bus to head off to court in the city of Sana'a, Yemen's capital. There she would wait for a judge to notice her. And there she would tell him, "I want a divorce."
He took her home to shelter her from her family, and then introduced her to Shada Nassar, one of a handful of female lawyers who is a staunch women's rights advocate. Based on her husband's own admission that he had slept with her, Nujood was granted a divorce. Since then, she's inspired other girls forced into marriage to seek divorces. And she's viewed by many in her country with bringing attention to a dangerous practice.
What was most inspiring about Nujood is that she is a determined soul. She hasn't lost her joy. She smiles and laughs and triumphantly expresses herself when moved to. On the day of our first meeting, she had just arrived in the United States. She was tired and unsure of her surroundings. And when she entered the room where the cameras and lights were set up for our interview, she quietly and politely looked at me and then her interpreter and said "No thank you."
We had spent the day together, eating candy and eyeing Hello Kitty posters. I thought my charms had powered through her fatigue. But we'd have to put our interview off for another day.
I doubt anyone will ever again force Nujood into doing something she doesn't want to do. And if her ordeal has taught her anything, it's that she has the power to inspire.