Nada Abdul Kader was born in 1989 to a huge family living in Aleppo and originating from the countryside south of Aleppo. Her parents were keen to raise their 10 children according to the teachings of Islam. They encouraged them to study, read and memorize the Holy Qur’an from an early age.
Nada chose to complete middle school in Sharia schools and decided to wear the niqab when she was 13 years old. She dropped out of school at late secondary level after being influenced by her female classmates who also quit school, mainly due to early marriage.
Nada married a man who was 11 years older than her. Due to her young age and the short engagement period of less than 40 days, she wasn’t able to get to know her fiancé or his parents well and the marriage was sealed too hastily.
Nada moved to her husband’s house in a village in the countryside east of Aleppo. The village was beautiful, and its houses were spacious. However, the problem was the villagers’ discriminatory traditions against women. “In that village, the birth of a girl is considered a disgrace and is received with sadness and mourning, while celebrations are held and sweets are distributed when the newborn baby is male,” says Nada.
Nada lived with her husband's family in a house on the outskirts of the village. It was more like a farm with all kinds of fruit-bearing trees and a large house that resembled the houses of Aleppo. However, to Nada’s surprise, there was a room in the house designated for sheep. The other surprise was that the women in the house worked in sheep farming, agriculture and many other tasks outside the house. As such, Nada had to work like them as well as take off her niqab.
One month after the wedding, Nada found out that she was pregnant. When she confronted her husband about keeping her in the dark concerning the nature of life in his village, his response was harsh and cruel. She then found out that he was weak-willed in front of his mother and his family, like all the other men in the village who have no say in anything in the presence of their parents. So, Nada gave in and tried to adapt to her new situation.
Nada describes some aspects of life and traditions of the villagers, who are called ‘Shawaya’: “Parents do not usually care about their daughters’ education. They send girls only to elementary school to learn how to read and write, and that’s considered enough. Moreover, girls must dress modestly, and most women have a tattoo on their faces,” she says.
“The Shawaya’s accent is characterized by heavy articulation. Its speakers have tried to preserve it by firmly refusing to speak with any other accent, especially that of Aleppo, based on the belief that changing their accent means denying their origins,” she adds.
Nada’s relationship with her in-laws became strained until the whole family cut all ties with her. She sought refuge wtih her parents and stayed at their house until it was time for her delivery. The disputes between the two families worsened and were exacerbated by the fact that the newborn was a girl. Her father didn’t see her until she was 8 months old.
“A baby girl is neglected by the family until she starts walking and talking. That’s when they start treating her as a human being,” says Nada.
Nada filed for divorce, but as soon as her husband received the summons, he tried to appease her and bring her back home. She withdrew the lawsuit and returned home but her husband sent her back to her parents’ house by deceit. After that, he didn’t contact her for 3 years, neither did he pay maintenance for her or her daughter.
Nada finally returned to her husband's house in the hope that her situation would change for the better, but her husband’s treatment became worse. She now slept with her daughter in an empty room containing only a mat and a mattress on the floor.
The problems between the couple persisted. Nada and her daughter were beaten and humiliated by her husband. She then gave birth to twin girls, which only made matters worse. Her husband made her stay and breastfeed the newborn girls for six months before she left for her parents’ house. Finally, after years of suffering, she was forced to make the most difficult decision of her life, which was to bring her eldest daughter with her and leave the twins behind. This was due to her father’s poor financial situation and his inability to afford her expenses and those of her three daughters.