On Monday morning, just as we set out for our daily walk, my mother told me the story of Noura Hussein:
At 16, Noura was forcibly married off by her father. She refused, and in protest left her family home on the outskirts of Khartoum to stay with her aunt in Sinnar, a city almost 250 kilometers away. Noura lived with her relative for three years before her father called to say that the wedding was cancelled, and that she should come home.
Upon her arrival, Noura found that she had been tricked, that the wedding to which she had never agreed was still happening, and shortly after was given away to her unchosen husband.
According to her testimony, Noura refused to consummate the marriage, resisting him for the first four days. On the fifth, she says her husband raped her, with the help of a number of his male relatives. The following day, when her husband attempted to rape her again, she stabbed and killed him. When she told her family, her father delivered her to the police, and then disowned her.
That was in 2017. On Sunday, April 29, 2018, Noura was found guilty in court of premeditated murder, the punishment for which is death by hanging.
My mother received this article about Noura on WhatsApp, a platform that has grown to be a main “news” source for Sudanese across the world. I say “news” because much of the information shared over WhatsApp should be taken with a grain of salt, as many of the topics shared take on an exaggerated quality. But the platform does prove useful, occasionally exposing us to issues that either don’t make it on international newsdesks (nobody wants to hear about anything from Sudan that isn’t war or terrorism), or provide a look into the corners of our lives that folks (read: government/society) prefer to stay hidden.
My reaction to Noura’s story should have been that of many of my compatriots, of healthy – and sometimes unhealthy – skepticism, to loosely quote @Osochil on Instagram. Except that I wasn’t blessed with the bliss of ignorance (or denial). Except that I know that Noura’s story isn’t new, that it isn’t even uncommon. Except that I personally know women who had 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.
Because the truth that we hate to admit is that the only thing that makes Noura’s story extraordinary is that she killed him. Her circumstance is a daily occurrence that the openminded and “enlightened” of us might not approve of, but will put up with because “that’s just an unfortunate part of our culture”. We will put up with it because the enduring silence of the women who suffer this fate allows our feathers to remain unruffled, it keeps our delicate sensibilities unaffected, it allows us to stay complacent.
Noura’s story is extraordinary because she killed her abuser, and that is what she is being faulted for in the court of law and public opinion (and from which all of the following throughout this article are real quotes). “She should have reasoned with him”, “she should have told her family”, “she should have gone to court, she should have found another way”. The last four days have been a flood of should-haves, each one more patronizing than the last, each one ignoring the facts of her case, of her circumstance, of her culture.
How could she have reasoned with a man who wasn’t reasonable enough to accept her adamant rejection of him?
How could she seek refuge in her family, the same people who put her in this position in the first place? The same people who, when she *did* seek refuge, abandoned her?
What other way was there for her to find? How does a 19 year old with no family support gain the access and tools needed to navigate her way through the legal system to get autonomy from her husband? And how long does that take? And how many are successful?
The last four days have exposed our ignorance, our callousness, our violent misogyny. “She’s guilty, it’s his right, she can’t refuse him”, “He’s not a man for getting his cousins to help….. he should have just drugged her”, “Tf you talking about, [she’s] his wife he can fuck her daily if he wants, Allah said that.” One news article read, “Bride Kills Husband on Their Honeymoon […] She stabbed him repeatedly after he tried to take his religious right [حقه الشرعي] from her by force.”
Our society does not recognize marital rape and uses hadith and other religious texts to justify it. Our society holds women accountable for the heinous actions of men, and then tells them to grin and bear it. “She didn’t choose to marry him, but her father chose for her, what can she do?” “Yes, he raped her, but she shouldn’t have killed him.” “Yes, he raped her, but she killed him in an inappropriate way.” (yes, that is the word-for-word quote) Our society does not recognize a woman’s right to her body, to choice, to life.
Our society does not want to come to terms with the heinous acts that it practices and values it holds. Our society thinks its ignorance is “fringe”, and hides behind the pristine image of “culture and tradition” that it has painstakingly curated. It digs its head in the sand and shows its ass to the world. “Our men don’t involve other men in rape, and not family. It’s not our culture. There must be more to the story.”
To preserve this image, it will tell us to put faith in a justice system that it bashes on a daily basis. Noura was painted by the prosecution as a woman who, unprovoked, “brutally” murdered her husband in cold blood. They denied the rape. They did not provide a counter-motive. Even without cause or motive, they never questioned her mental state or theorized on what drove her to commit such a crime – and the justice system did not ask them to. It was content to cast a quick and dirty guilty verdict.
Our country protects the perpetrators and demonizes the victims. It sentences a teenager to death, and gives a convicted rapist a presidential pardon (look it up).