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“Plan International), sometimes as young as eight years old. For one in five, this forced marriage takes place before the age of 18. These girls find their right to a childhood and education stolen and their future prospects limited. According to UN Women, a “forced marriage” is a union entered …”
TW : sexual violence
Forced marriage: a sad reality
More than 12 million girls are forcibly married each year((Plan International), sometimes as young as eight years old. For one in five, this forced marriage takes place before the age of 18. These girls find their right to a childhood and education stolen and their future prospects limited. According to UN Women, a “forced marriage” is a union entered into without the free and full consent of both parties. This union can take place under physical, psychological, sexual or emotional duress. The causes are diverse: cultural traditions, community pressure, poverty, lack of birth certificates for the children to be forcibly married, lack of official recognition of their existence by the state, and lack of respect for the law. Early and forced marriages often lead to violence, sexual aggression and marital rape, but also to the deschooling of these girls, sometimes at a very early age, unwanted pregnancies which can be dangerous for young women, not to mention their mental health and their dreams for the future which they see fading away.
Forced marriage is considered a human rights violation, it violates the principles of freedom and autonomy of individuals. The prohibition of forced marriage is present in several national and international texts. Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “Everyone has the right to marry and to found a family without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion. Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses”. The Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence prohibits forced marriage in its Article 37((“Parties shall take such legislative or other measures as may be necessary to establish as a criminal offence, when committed intentionally, the coercion of an adult or a child to enter into marriage. Parties shall take such legislative or other measures as may be necessary to establish as a criminal offence the intentional deception of an adult or child for the purpose of taking him or her into the territory of a Party or State other than the one in which he or she resides with the intention of forcing him or her to enter into a marriage.” (Free translation) )). Despite these texts, forced marriages are still practiced in all regions of the world. The novel Les Impatientes focuses on these events in the Sahel region.
A book that breaks taboos
First published under the title Munyal, les larmes de la patience (“Munyal the tears of patience”) in 2017 by Éditions Proximité, Les Impatientes (“The Impatient girls”) by Djaïli Amadou Amal was published in France in 2020 and won the Prix Goncourt des lycéens 2020. This novel is a fiction inspired by real stories. Djaïli Amadou Amal is the first African author to tackle the taboo and painful subject of forced marriage.
The novel is divided into three parts. In each part, a different narrator tells her story and we discover that their paths are linked. Although their stories are each unique, their suffering and their daily trials are all unique, they all have the same root: a forced marriage.
The author succeeds in describing the whole traditional process, starting with the organisation of the family. We understand that in the Sahel, children are not only the children of their parents, but of the whole family; uncles, for example, can choose the husband of their niece. Djaïli Amadou Amal describes the parents’ choice of husband, the family’s motivations and interests in their decision, the marriage ceremony, polygamy, the organisation of the household, the daily life of the wife(s), violence, sadness and boredom. The author breaks the taboos, brings us into the daily life of these women and helps us to realise the harshness of their condition.
What we also understand in this book is that an emotional blackmail takes place towards these young girls so that they give in, so that they feel they are consenting. From childhood, they are socialised in this sense, to be dignified, honourable, patient women, to keep their place in the community and make their families proud. Patience, as the title suggests, is a central notion in the book. It is also central to religion, to the lives of these women and to their marriages. This notion accompanies us throughout our reading, notably through various quotations:
- “Munyal defan hayre” (“Patience bakes the stone”), Fulani proverb
- “The patience of a heart is in proportion to its size” (“La patience d’un cœur est en proportion de sa grandeur”), arab proverb
- “At the end of the patience, there is the sky” (“Au bout de la patience, il y a le ciel”), african proverb
- “Patience is an art that is learned patiently” (“La patience est un art qui s’apprend patiemment”), Grand Corps Malade.
Be aware of your privileges
The book Les Impatientes is one of those works that make me aware of my privileges, of how lucky I am to have been born and raised in France, to have always been free to make my own choices, to be listened to, understood, supported, to be independent. It is a book of revolt, of struggle, of resistance. It is important to be aware that this opportunity is not shared by everyone and that everywhere in the world people are forced against their will, condemned to a life of misery. Thanks to these works that lift taboos, by informing about unacceptable situations, it is possible to act so that women are always in control of their destiny and can, wherever they grow up, whatever their religion, whatever their social background, marry or not marry whoever they wish, study, travel, and show, or not, munyal.
To go further
- In “The scream of silence”, 11 artists commit themselves against violence against women and girls. This song is part of the awareness campaign #StrongerTogether, launched by the Sahel Women’s Empowerment and Demographic Dividend (SWEDD) programme, funded by the World Bank and coordinated by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the West African Health Organisation (WAHO). To be found on YouTube.
- UN Women has a campaign to end forced marriage. “UN Women works very closely with its UN partners, Member States and stakeholders to ensure that girls can enjoy their right to a life free from violence.” More information
- Plan International is organising a sponsorship campaign to accompany girls to “unleash the power of girls to be agents of change for their families and communities, and thus become women and citizens who will transform nations”. More informations
Djaïli Amadou Amal was born in the north of Cameroon. She was then remarried and fled after domestic violence threatened her life and that of her children. She has experienced everything that makes life difficult for women in the Sahel. In 2012, she founded the association Femmes du Sahel (Women of Sahel) which helps young women gain independence through education. She was the winner of the 2019 Best African Author Award and the 2019 Orange Book Prize in Africa.