“My dream was to live an experience that I only saw in TV shows: to go to university. This is how my family eventually convinced me to marry an older man. They said that he would enroll me in a university in France and that my life would be better, but the reality was different”, said Iman, who was married off at 16.
Iman, now 27-years-old, explained how she was forced into marrying a physically, emotionally, and sexually abusive husband. “I was not his first child bride. After marrying him and moving to a new city, I discovered that this man was a serial abuser of young girls, who would typically marry girls for two months before divorcing them”. Iman said he would prey on girls from low-income families, who would give away their daughters in marriage for money.
She suffered from the abuse of her ex-husband and his family. Her father’s attempt to save her failed. “I sent my father videos and recordings showing my living situation. He resorted to going to the police, who did nothing. My ex-husband would bribe them to fake reports”, she explained. She recalled one time when her ex-husband was hitting her in the street, and a police officer told him to beat her more, “because women deserve it,” as he said. Iman explained that corruption within law enforcement bodies, alongside social norms, contribute to the persistence of violence against women, and of child marriage.
Iman’s father sought the help of Zainab, the director of one of Equality Now’s partner organizations in Morocco, who was able to help.
Zainab made it clear that she would resort to taking the story of Iman to the media to expose the police’s complicity with the abusive husband. When the police finally complied, Iman was admitted to the hospital to recover from the physical abuse inflicted on her by her husband.
Although Iman went to the courts equipped with medical reports from a forensic doctor, she couldn’t get a divorce then. “My ex-husband finally divorced me after one year, just after I went online to talk about what happened to me. A TV station covered my story and turned my story into a public matter. And all thanks to Zainab ”, said Iman, with relief.
“I am not ashamed of what I went through. It made me stronger”. Iman said that people in her community shame divorced women and girls, but they never shame abusive men. She added: “I tell the girls I meet that they should proceed with their lives if they get divorced. We shouldn’t be ashamed of things imposed on us. It wasn’t our choice”.
With her good friend Salma’s encouragement, Iman got her Baccalaureate degree, and she’s currently studying French language and Computer Science, with plans to become an Engineer.
Iman now volunteers with Equality Now’s partner organization to raise awareness about child marriage in remote areas in Morocco. “It is satisfying to know that you have helped others,” she said, “When I hear girls and young women sharing their experiences, I feel happy that I encouraged them to speak up”.
In September 2022, Iman participated in the Equality Now Digital Advocacy Training in Beirut to advance her activism. “Being on a plane and visiting Beirut was my ultimate dream. I never thought I would travel out of Morocco”, Iman excitedly said, “The was an opportunity to learn new skills and meet other young women and men, and to share our stories and experiences.” Iman said that the training inspired her to become a trainer to equip women and girls with skills that can help them fight for their rights. “I also want to produce my video to tell my story: How I succeeded, in spite of what I have been through”.
During the training, Iman learned how to target audiences and how to deliver messages to different audiences. These acquired skills, in addition to mentoring by the Equality Now team, helped Iman to prepare for her session on child marriage at the Cross-Regional Family Law conference held in Istanbul in October 2022. Iman said she felt confident and well-prepared to address professionals and activists from different countries for the first time, while sharing her own story as survivor-turned-activist.
The names were changed, and the face was hidden as requested by the interviewee.