The two women met for the first time last week at a sleek Georgetown hotel, where they were speakers at a glittering charity dinner. They shook hands and hugged across a vast gulf of culture, geography and faith: one a devout Muslim from West Africa with her hair carefully hidden under a tight scarf, the other a gregarious South Asian in a stylish sari and costume earrings.
But the horrific stories they had come to tell were surprisingly similar. Stories of gruesome rituals and suffocating family pressure; of two teenage brides a world apart, who somehow found the nerve to defy fate and escape to freedom. Now, years later, the pair were being feted as celebrities, survivors and crusaders for change. As each was introduced in the darkened salon, the clinking and murmuring stopped and the audience rose to its feet.
Jasvinder Sanghera, 46, fled an imminent forced marriage to a stranger in England and became a high-profile activist, telling her story countless times and seeking to protect other female South Asian immigrants from similar fates. Fauziya Kassindja, 35, fled the threat of genital mutilation in Togo and won a landmark U.S. asylum case that brought world attention to the plight of African girls, yet she has shunned the limelight, preferring to forget her painful past and focus on family and business. Read the full story.