A native of Buffalo, New York, Nasheyah is a Yemeni-American interior designer at Lowe’s. A mother of five, she silently endured domestic violence for 18 years, too scared to ask for help. Only when a neighbor heard her screaming and called the police did Nasheyah step forward. After gaining the courage to break her silence, she now speaks out on honor-based violence against women and presented at the White House and at the Seneca Falls Women’s Rights Convention.
You’re alone inside your house and you’re ashamed because you don’t want anybody to know you are being abused. I was being abused for 18 years. I was ashamed. I couldn’t save myself or my kids. Here is my sad story, which I hope will one day have a happy ending.
Born in Buffalo, I was raised in a traditional Yemeni family, part of a community that moved to upstate New York decades ago from Yemen.
I was always determined to prove girls could do anything boys could do. As a kid, I was a Tom Boy: climbing, riding bikes, playing ball, always determined growing up to prove it. I learned in school what others had to go through to achieve equality throughout history regardless of race, gender or culture. It inspired me.
Despite these values, I agreed when my family arranged a marriage for me to a man from Yemen. Family and culture are powerful. I could not easily go against them. And this is the tradition in our family for centuries.
My husband arrived from Yemen, and soon we had five children. My husband began to beat me. Year after year I stayed quiet, silently enduring the beatings, hoping it would all work out.
I wanted to get my college degree. My husband at first seemed to support my studies. But as soon as he received his U.S. citizenship, his crackdown began. He demanded I stop studying to raise the children full-time.
I refused. So he filed for divorce and won custody of our children and denied me visitation rights. He claimed to me that according to Islam a woman has no rights to her children. I was battered and now stripped of my own children. I was lost.
As I tried to rebuild my own life, I watched in horror as my ex-husband began to inflict his abuse on our children. Despite a court order preventing him from taking our kids out of the country, he tried to make a passport for our then 17 year old daughter. The US Passport Agency red flagged the application and called me. I was able to block the passport. But then when our daughter turned 18 in 2012, my ex-husband convinced her apply on her own for a passport as an adult.
Two weeks after getting her passport, my daughter was on a one way ticket to Yemen to be married off in an arranged marriage to a cousin she had never met – without her knowledge or consent. In Yemen, she suddenly had her cell phone and passport taken away, and she was forced to veil herself. After the wedding night, she was raped, tore, and needed stitches. She refused to go back to her husband and moved in with my mother-in-law, who refused to help her. While her grandmother was washing up for prayer, my daughter used her grandmother’s cell phone to contact her friends on Facebook.
Her friends contacted me and asked how they could help her, though she refused to ask me directly for help. I started crying, because I was powerless to help her in Yemen. I told them to instruct her to go to the US Embassy in Sana’a, and the US Government would give her temporary asylum until I give her friends her birth certificate to fax her. My daughter listened to them and escaped Yemen with my help, not knowing I knew everything that happened to her.
Now I fear that my next-oldest daughter may be engaged to a stranger in Yemen and the whole drama will be repeated.
My experience has led me to see how cultures use religion to deny women basic rights. In Yemen and beyond, people invoke religion as an excuse, a tool, to repress women. But I also see that love is powerful. It made me determined to finish school and fulfill my dreams of becoming an interior designer. I have rebuilt my life, I have a career as a full time interior designer, and I dream of once again holding my children. I am trying to turn my pain into something positive, not only to help my kids but to help women and children around the world gain basic equality in their lives.