For most Westerners, child brides are an anacronism of the past. They are stories read in newspapers or seen on the news about uncivilized parts of the world.
But for Aynaz Annia Cyrus and millions of women in the Middle East and North Africa, being sold into slavery – called “marriage” in nations such as Iran and in regions controlled by ISIS – is reality. These women are “married” as children to older men. Sometimes, like Cyrus, they try to leave these sham “marriages” and go to safe harbors.
Too often, they fail. Cyrus is one of the lucky ones – she left her “marriage,” she left Islam, and she became a Christian. She is currently a U.S. citizen who is using her voice to bring a message of hope and resilience for those still enslaved as “child brides.”
Most readers of this piece won’t consider Cyrus lucky. Yes, she’s a U.S. citizen, free to oppose the viciousness of ISIS and the Iranian caliphate. But on her journey from a 15-year old child bride to freedom advocate, Cyrus was jailed and raped for rebelling against the injustices she faced every day. Her violent, abusive husband treated her as property, not as an equal.
So, she left. And after surviving jail, rape, and a journey across half of the Earth thanks to the Grace of God, she is in the Land of the Free.
Reporters will have the chance to meet my friend Aynaz Annia Cyrus this week at the National Press Club and on Capitol Hill. She is bravely speaking out as part of the Middle Eastern Women’s Coalition, of which I am honored to serve as President. Cyrus and a dozen other women will speak for those who cannot: the millions of women whose genitals are mutilated, whose bodies are battered, whose lives are ended as part of barbaric “honor killings.”
I’m the truly lucky one – even though death threats have been made against me since I published my first book Tahran Melekleri in 2007, in Turkey. Translated as “The Angels of Tehran,” the book is based upon undercover interviews I conducted with approximately 200 women. My second book, Sia Islamic Prostitution, was about “temporary marriages” which, in some Islamic culture,s consist of men essentially swapping out one “wife” for another.
I’m lucky because I’m able to join survivors like Cyrus, lawyers, doctors, and others this week to speak out. Brave women like Cyrus will tell their stories – and their experiences match those of millions whose voices will never be heard outside of their oppressive homes.
The Middle Eastern Women’s Coalition is dedicated to reformation of practices which horrify decent people. Child marriages, genital mutilation, honor killings, and more will be exposed at our December 12 panel on Capitol Hill. Video will be available on the Coalition’s website by the end of the week.
As a former Muslim who became Catholic, I know what I left behind. I left a culture which takes beautiful women like Aynaz Annia Cyrus and turns them into slaves. I left a culture which convinces men that women are not equals – not daughters of God to be respected and cherished – but rather simply objects to be used and discarded.
What I have embraced is hope. Hope that the United States will continue to be a beacon of freedom, and that through the Grace of God will lead to a brighter future for all oppressed by radical Islam in Iran, ISIS, and elsewhere.
Rabia Kazan is President of Middle Eastern Women’s Coalition.