It is 22 years since the publication of Sold; One woman’s heartbreaking, true account of modern slavery. The story is authored by Zana Muhsen, and ghostwritten by Andrew Crofts, and in 2001 a sequel; A Promise to Nadia, was published.
Zana and Nadia were both born in London in 1965 and 1966 respectively, the daughters of a British mother and Yemeni father. After a conventional childhood, the sisters were subjected to greater exhortations of patriarchal power in the early stages of adolescence. Their dad did not like them talking to men, leaving the house without permission, and not obeying like normal Yemeni women are ‘supposed’ to.
In 1980 he sent them to Yemen on a promise of a great holiday, where they could see the beautiful land he had known, and enjoy camel rides on palm lined beaches etc. Zana went first. Upon reaching Yemen, and journeying to a remote village unmarked even on government maps, she found herself in the squalid house of a friend of her fathers. He introduced her to his son and then told her she was married to the sickly boy.
Disbelief gave way to despair as she was locked in a room with her ‘husband’ and told she must sleep with him. Evading him the first night, she was told that if she continued to refuse she would be tied to the bed. Zana was 15. Kept in such totalitarian control, she could only watch helplessly as her sister arrived, and tell her of the situation. Nadia had also been married off to a son of a friend of her dad’s, and had to submit also to his conjugal desires. She was 13.
I am writing about this now because this story has been completely forgotten. Zana managed to return to England eight years later — having to leave her son behind — but Nadia has remained imprisoned by her inability to abandon her children. Remaining in a medieval corner of the Yemen has enslaved her to an animal cycle of pregnancies, and every child adds weight to her chains. After 34 years it is almost certain she will not leave the life forced on her by a callous and feckless father, and thus she joins the multitude of women that we, moral human beings, have let down.
The book Sold was one of the first in a growing literature by and about the plight of women. Reading any of them lifts the veil on the face of evil, and each successive volume adds to the weight of the solution to poverty and backwardness. The empowerment of women. The figures that come up in this literature, Zana Muhsen, Mukhtar Mai, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, are the real figures for emulation, and admiration. They are the women who should share the pedestal that has been claimed by supporters (which includes a lot of people, although most cannot say a single good thing she has done) of the fanatic, fundamentalist, fraud Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu — otherwise known by her nom de plume ‘Mother Theresa’.
That this caustic Albanian nun who in every way embodies the worst of celebrity culture, is held in such esteem by so many, is an awful rebuke to the cause of freedom for women. I urge everyone to acquaint themselves with books like Half the Sky, like Sold, like Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and In the name of Honour by Mukhtar Mai. The first step in righting the wrongs done to women around the world is surely to learn about them.