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Six books on SGBV you should read.

The best way to learn about anything is to read about it and not just about the concept, but about what it means to live through the concept and experience it. 

Reading allows one to understand the stories behind a concept or a problem as sexual and gender-based violence can be ambiguous to certain groups of people.

For the 16 days of activism, the worldwide effort channelled to ending Sexual and gender-based violence, here are six books with characters who have experienced sexual and gender-based violence. These books and many others are the lived experiences of real women documented and reimagined by the authors. 

Woman At Point Zero– Egypt.

Women at point zero is a novel by Nawal El Saadawi published in Arabic in 1975. 

Nawal El Saadawi writes the story of a prostitute. The novel is based on Saadawi’s meeting with a female prisoner in Qanatir Prison and is the first-person account of Firdaus’s life.

From a prison cell, Firdaus, sentenced to die for having killed a pimp in a Cairo street, tells of her life from village childhood to city prostitute. Society’s retribution for her act of defiance – death – she welcomes as the only way she can finally be free. Critics have praised Saadawi for exposing the subjugation of women in Middle Eastern societies, but  Saadawi’s work and its popularity in Western countries have been regarded with suspicion by Arab critics, who contend that Saadawi perpetuates negative Western stereotypes of Arab-Islamic male violence and domination and that her work has been neglected due to its literary shortcoming. 

A Woman Is No Man – America.

A New York Times bestseller, Washington Post’s  10 Books to Read in March and One of Cosmopolitan’s Best Books by POC for 2019. This book by Etaf Rum tells the story of a young American-Arab girl, Deya living in New York. Deya’s actions and defiance lead her to uncover the truth about her past. In Brooklyn, eighteen-year-old Deya is meant to start meeting suitors although she wants to go to college, something only her entranced aunt has been able to achieve. Her grandparents give her no choice. Deya’s mother, Isra, also had no choice when she left Palestine as a teenager to marry Adam, Deya’s father. The narrative alternates between the lives of Deya and Isra, she begins to understand the dark, complex secrets behind her community.

The Colour PurpleAmerica.

The colour purple is a 1982 novel by Alice Walker which won the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, the first book by a black female author to win the prize. It was later adapted into a film and musical of the same name. The novel appears on the American Library Association list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2000–2009 at number seventeenth because of the sometimes explicit content, particularly in terms of violence. Taking place mostly in rural Georgia, the story focuses on the life of African-American women, in the Southern United States, in the 1930s, addressing numerous issues including their exceedingly low position in American social culture. Celie is a poor, uneducated 14-year-old girl, living in the American South in the early 1900s. She writes letters to God, because her stepfather, Alphonso, beats her harshly and rapes her continuously.

A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaleed Hosseini – America

A thousand splendid suns was number one on the New York Times Best Seller list for fifteen weeks following its release and during its first week on sale, it sold over one million copies. 

The book is a story of Mariam, an illegitimate child from Herat, forced to marry a shoemaker from Kabul after her mother and only caretaker dies and Leila, who is born a generation later, lives a relatively privileged life, but her life intersects with Mariam’s when a similar tragedy forces her to accept a marriage proposal from Mariam’s husband. The story is set against the events of Afghanistan’s last thirty years – from the Soviet invasion to the reign of the Taliban to post-Taliban. Hosseini has remarked that he regards the novel as a “mother-daughter story” in contrast to The Kite Runner, which he considers a “father-son story” and friendships between men.

The Girl With The Louding Voice, Abi Dare- Nigeria. 

The Girl with the Louding Voice is a 2020 coming of age novel and the debut novel of Nigerian writer Abi Daré. The unforgettable, inspiring story of a teenage girl growing up in a rural Nigerian village who longs to get an education so that she can find her “louding voice” and speak up for herself. The Girl with the Louding Voice is a simultaneously heartbreaking and triumphant tale about the power of fighting for your dreams. It tells the story about a teenage Nigerian girl called Adunni who becomes a maid and struggles with many things growing up, including her limited education, poverty and her ability to speak up for herself. Published in 2020, the book became a New York Times Bestseller and is a Read with Jenna choice on The Today Show. It was also shortlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize for first-time novelists.

The Shadow King– Ethiopia.

The shadow king is a novel written by Maaza Mengiste, set during Mussolini’s 1935 invasion of Ethiopia. The Shadow King takes us back to the first real conflict of World War II, casting light on the women soldiers who were left out of the historical record. It was shortlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize. The book is set during WWII, under the reign of Mussolini, and it’s about the Italian invasion of Ethiopia. There are three main characters: Kidane is a soldier in Selassie’s army; Aster is his wife, who married him as a child and resents him to this day; and Hirut their servant, an orphan who ends up becoming something more when her cruel employers drive her to desperation.

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