The case of Noura Hussein has drawn greater attention to the challenging environment that Sudanese women live in, an environment that normalises violence against them: Hussein had been forced to enter a marriage contract at the age of 16 and, after running away, had to eventually marry at 19, when she killed her husband in self-defence and was subsequently sentenced to death.
While her sentence has recently been reduced to five years in prison, her fate still highlights the urgent need for legal reform and social change. Child marriage is deeply rooted in Sudanese society and only the criminalisation of this practice by law will provide the base for changing attitudes and practices.
This is where SORDʹs project “Towards Gender Equality in Sudan” ties in. The organisation has drafted a reform law and discussed it in tens of workshops held all over Sudan. They submitted the law proposal to the Ministry of Justice in 2016 and were invited by the Government to be part of the National Committee to Reform the Personal Status Law for Muslims the subsequent year.
While the draft has not been finalised yet, discussions are still under way and the project has already fuelled conversations about womenʹs rights in the private sphere, where it has paved the way for women to renegotiate their rights within their families.
From victims to survivors
The SEEMA Centre for Training and Protection of Children and Womenʹs Rights is a non-governmental organisation and the only institution in Sudan that provides comprehensive services to women and children who are victims of violence, including psychological, legal and medical assistance. The name of the Centre itself, SEEMA, combines the initials of five survivors of violence who have inspired the launch of the Centre.
Since its launch, the Centre has supported hundreds of women and children, who have suffered acts of violence and injustice, ranging from sexual harassment and legal discrimination over forced underage marriage and female genital mutilation to domestic violence and rape.
SEEMA also provides capacity-building training for individuals to become service providers for victims of violence in their respective communities and sensitise these communities to the damages done by human rights violations. By responding to the urgent needs of victims, expressing public condemnation of violence and advocating legal reform, the SEEMA Centre has managed to help women to turn from victims to survivors.
Womenʹs rights activists have kept up their resistance, working in a misogynistic environment, where laws and regulations and the entire political system are against them, and where the assumption of male superiority is deeply rooted in society.
The organisations mentioned above are just a few examples of the broad spectrum of groups that work hard and tirelessly to promote womenʹs rights and end discrimination against women in Sudan. The journey to achieve equality and justice for women has begun a long time ago and there is still a long way to go, but women will not aim for anything less. While Sudanese women are out there in the streets across the country, protesting against their oppression, their hearts are full of hope and desire for a better future.
Wini Omer, journalist and human rights activist, interested in womenʹs rights and social change.