Womenʹs rights in Sudan

Motivated by hope

Political Islam posed an unprecedented challenge to womenʹs emancipation in Sudan. Despite worsening circumstances, numerous womenʹs rights organisations, associations and centres continued to lead courageous campaigns all over the country to address the many pressing issues women were and are still facing. By Wini Omer

In Sudan, womenʹs active fight for political and economic rights goes back to the 1960s, when they won the right to political participation (1964) and to equal pay for equal work (1969) as two of many milestones. With the rise of the National Islamic Front (NIF) to power through a military coup in 1989, however, everything changed and the Sudanese womenʹs movement suffered a grave setback, when many of their achievements were reversed. Political Islam posed an unprecedented challenge to womenʹs emancipation in Sudan.

Despite worsening circumstances, numerous womenʹs rights organisations, associations and centres continued to lead courageous campaigns all over the country to address the many pressing issues women were and are still facing. This article will present three of them: the pressure group No to Womenʹs Oppression, the Sudanese Organisation for Research and Development (SORD), and SEEMA Centre for Training and Protection of Children and Womenʹs Rights.

No to womenʹs oppression

Since taking over power, NIF has created many discriminatory laws to limit the participation of women in the public sphere, restrict them to the private and family domains, and control their lives and bodies.

For example, women are severely affected by a series of laws and regulations called the Public Order Regime, which dictate peopleʹs appearance in public, amongst many other things. In addition, many workplaces have adopted internal regulations that require women to wear the headscarf and follow strict dress codes, including all governmental institutions and universities.

Women demonstrate in solidarity with Lubna Hussein on 4 August 2009 in Khartoum (photo: AP/Abd Raouf)
"The Lubna case affects us all ": Sudanese women demonstrate in solidarity with Lubna Hussein, who was sentenced to 40 lashes for "wearing indecent clothing". In the wake of Husseinʹs case, a group of womenʹs rights activists founded the pressure group No to Womenʹs Oppression to fight for the abolishment of humiliating and discriminatory Sudanese laws and for gender equality

The Public Order Regime started as a local order in Khartoum State in 1996 and was then expanded to many other states.

Its violation is punished under the Sudanese Penal Code. The Regime profoundly impacts the lives of both women and men in Sudan, as citizens can find themselves criminalised for what should be considered personal choices, such as the way they dress or style their hair.

It also limits personal freedoms in many other ways, for example by prohibiting the production, sale and consumption of alcohol, and what are deemed “indecent” acts.

The legislation includes little instruction on its implementation, leaving the interpretation of what constitutes a violation and its severity to the public order police and their personal biases.

The Public Order Regime is a real threat to womenʹs safety and dignity in public spaces. Every year, around 43,000 women are arrested for violating the public order and sentenced to painful and humiliating punishments, including flogging, imprisonment and fines.

One of the most prominent cases is that of Sudanese journalist Lubna Ahmed al-Hussein, arrested in 2009 for “wearing indecent clothing” according to Article 152 of the Penal Code. In the wake of al-Husseinʹs case, a group of womenʹs rights activists founded the pressure group No to Womenʹs Oppression to fight for the abolishment of humiliating and discriminatory Sudanese laws and for gender equality.

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