Sudan: Women take to the streets. They are fed up with violence

Sudan: Women take to the streets. They are fed up with violence

Hundreds of women gathered on the streets of Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, to protest against gender-based violence. “The street is our right,” chanted the demonstrators. 

On Thursday, April 8, women took over the streets of the Sudanese capital. “It is not only our right, but the right of every woman who comes after us”. “No to laws discriminating against women”. These kinds of slogans appeared on the banners during the march against violence against women and their unequal treatment.

Those of the Sudanese women, who could not participate in the march live, watched it and supported it online, writing: “We are with you”. Information about the demonstrations in Sudan, along with the hashtag #WomensParade, was shared on Twitter 17,000 times.

Women fight for justice

The protesters made a list of demands. They have addressed it to the country’s authorities, claiming they do not intend to withdraw until the demands are met.

“We demand consequences for inciters of harassment, rape, assault and violence against women on social media, and new and clear laws that protect women of all ages inside and outside their homes,” wrote the authors of the manifesto.

Women also demand anti-discrimination and anti-violence trainings for government officials and for companies and institutions working with the governement. They also demand an indictment against the district commander of the Khartoum police for inciting discrimination against women, and the administration of justice.

Commander Eisa Ismail has been widely criticized after calling for the restoration of Omar al-Bashir’s public order law “on fighting against crime” in Sudan. The law was repealed in November 2019, due to its provisions discriminating against women. The law forbade women to wear pants, comment on social media, or hang out with men from outside their families. 

The protesters delivered their list of demands to the minister of justice, the minister of internal affairs, and the General Prosecutor. They also called on government officials to adopt international treaties on gender equality, especially the Maputo Protocol and the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). The protesters want the treaties to be adopted as part of the reforms to be carried out in the country following the change of government in 2019.

The demonstrators were not warmly-welcomed by the Khartoum’s passers-by. One of the women was seriously injured after a man deliberately hit her with a car.  The protesters were harassed, pushed, and men were shouting insults and threats at them. The General Prosecutor said that six women sued for assault after the march.

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Without law, it is a doomed fight

During the 30-years rule of Sudan’s former president, Omar Al-Bashir, not a single law has been passed in the country to protect women and girls from domestic violence or abuse. Unfortunately, even after the overthrow of the dictator in April 2019, the problem of violence against women did not become an authorities’ priority. 

The issue was only raised after the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. In Sudan – as in almost all countries where studies have been conducted on the subject to date – the scale of domestic violence and female abuse significantly increased. 

At the beginning of the pandemic, in 2020, in one month, over 40 cases of violence against women and girls were registered in Khartoum alone. [1] However, there is no doubt that these data – provided by government agencies – have been heavily underestimated. 

Temporarily, the Ministry of Welfare and Social Security took care of the safety of women and girls. A free helpline for abuse victims has been created. However, the lack of laws criminalizing physical violence against women means that the actual fight is doomed to failure.

“We do not have a gender-based law and we do not have a law that criminalizes domestic violence. That is why when we are working with survivors, we advocate and support by our presence, especially cases related to early marriage, because there is a lot of domestic violence happening within [the] early marriage process,” said Sulaim Al Khalifa, head of the Gender Department at the Sudanese Ministry of Welfare and Social Security. [2]

A year ago, Al Khalifa declared that she was working on a draft law criminalizing domestic violence. The law was also meant to impose an obligation on the government to create a separate judicial unit for cases related to gender-based violence, to build a network of shelters for victims, and to appropriately train the police. So far, however, there is still no sight of it.

The changes are there, but they are slow

Changes in the protection of women’s rights in post-revolutionary Sudan are taking place. However, women’s rights activists have no illusions. The process is slow. Also the establishment of the necessary legal regulations does not go hand-in-hand with real changes in social mentality.

Only last year, Sudan officially banned female genital mutilation (FGM). A person who has carried out this “procedure” is now facing a three-year prison sentence. It was a long-awaited law in a country where more than 90% of women were mutilated, according to UN figures. However, in some parts of Sudan, mutilation is still considered a precondition for a woman to get married. There is a huge gap between legislation and real changes.

The key point is that the demonstrations in Khartoum are not the first time that Sudanese women have raised the voice. Women not only actively stand up for their rights. They prove that they are the main driving force of change in the country. They are also aware that without them and their activism Sudan would not have reformed its government in 2019. Without them Sudan would not cope with the pandemic and the planned changes of today.

As proof of the important role of women in the overthrow of Omar al-Bashir in 2019, it is enough to mention the icon of these transformations – Alaa Salah. Alaa Salah is a 22-year-old student from Khartoum. Video recordings of the girl in white standing on the roof of a car chanting revolutionary Sudanese songs went around the world.

Salah has repeatedly emphasized that, despite the fact that women have been the backbone of anti-colonial resistance for decades and made up 70% of the demonstrators in 2019, they “have largely been sidelined from the formal political process in the months following the revolution”. [3]

“After decades of fighting and everything we risked to end the Al Bashir’s dictatorship peacefully, gender inequality is not and will never be acceptable to women and girls in Sudan,” Salah said at the 2019 UN Security Council. [4]

Today, both she and the demonstrators from April announce that they will not rest until their merits are recognized and their rights secured.

Sources:

[1] Nadda Osman, Sudan: Hundreds of women rally against gender-based violence, Middle East Eye.

[2] Michael Atit, Reports of Gender-Based Violence Increase in Sudan During COVID Lockdown, Voa News.

[3, 4] UN Security Council, Security Council Urges Recommitment to Women, Peace, Security Agenda, Unanimously Adopting Resolution 2493 (2019).

Cover photo: Sudanese woman on the protest against Omar al-Bashir’s rule in 2019. Credit: Wikipedia.org.




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