ARUS providing training to police officers
Hanaa Ibrahim Ahmed Altirifi was tired of witnessing women being harassed by the local police. She decided to do something about it. Thanks to her and the training manual developed by the Assisting regional universities in Sudan (ARUS) programme, local police officers in the Blue Nile state are now getting their first ever training in how to deal with gender-based violence.
Everyday life can be brutal for women in Sudan’s Blue Nile state. The threat is double; a conservative community where women have little protection against violence at home, and a public sphere where harassment of women is the norm. The police, meant to protect the citizens, are often actively adding to the burden of being a woman in public.
-The police officers are infamous for making noises and hollering at women, banging sticks on different objects aiming to intimidate women. Women are often met with brute force. Especially poor women are treated badly and discriminated against, says Hanaa Ibrahim Ahmed Altirifi, researcher and lecturer at the Blue Nile University and team member of the Assisting regional universities in Sudan (ARUS) programme.
Introducing a new way of thinking about gender-based violence
The Blue Nile state is situated in the relatively more conservative Eastern Sudan. Here, religious leaders and institutions, a restrictive family law, and in general little awareness about gender-based violence, limits the freedom of women and girls. To many, an act is only considered to be violent if it causes injury or death. ‘Mere’ violations of rights are not considered an offense. In such a context, being harassed by a police officer in public certainly does not constitute an encroachment on anyone’s rights.
But determined efforts to raise awareness about gender-based violence and violence against women are starting to have an effect. Training sessions provided by the ARUS programme are among the initiatives that tackle the root causes of the problem: Having the guts to acknowledge that tradition, religion and culture are among the most central drivers behind norms that restrain women and girls, and addressing it by openness and willingness to discuss the issues at hand.
For Hanaa Ibrahim Ahmed Altirifi, getting engaged in the ARUS training has been a source of inspiration and a trigger for her determination to contribute to change. Summoning the courage to invite officers from the local police to one of her training sessions she was unsure what to expect. But the reply from the officer in charge was positive, and the start of what is now turning out to be a success story. The police officers who attended have now encouraged her to do more trainings for more of their colleagues. And the experience has strengthened her conviction that what she and other university staff do when they provide training sessions has an even bigger purpose; it is paramount in driving change.
But the reply from the officer in charge was positive, and the start of what is now turning out to be a success story.
A few days after the training in which the police officers participated one of them got in touch with her. Keeping quiet during the training, on the phone alone with her after the session, the words came pouring out.
-He told me that this was the first time they had ever heard about gender-based violence. He admitted that this way of thinking was completely new to them. Their training is always military training to meet any situation with violence, as a type of power they have and should express to people. His understanding was that this strategy of normalizing violence was a deliberate choice, says Altirifi.
Trickle down training effect
At the heart of the ARUS training component is an extensive manual developed by Samia El Nager, an independent researcher who plays a central role in the gender component of the ARUS programme. The manual aims to promote understanding of gender equality, gender-based violence (GBV), violence against women (VAW), and gender sensitive research, and forms the basis of the regular training sessions held for university staff at the regional universities that are part of the ARUS programme. University staff like Hanaa Ibrahim Ahmed Altirifi then go on to train others, reaching further and further out into the local community. The goal is that this trickle down effect will help create a ‘critical mass’ in the local communities that will start pushing for change.
University staff like Hanaa Ibrahim Ahmed Altirifi then go on to train others, reaching further and further out into the local community.
Hanaa Ibrahim Ahmed Altirifi herself attended her first training of trainers workshop in 2021. To her, one of the most important aspects of the training was the thorough review of the legal aspects of gender-based violence and violence against women.
-The local police do not get any training in human rights. The legal aspects of gender-based violence, and the types of actions victims of gender-based violence can take were not familiar to them, she says.
That being said, victims of gender-based violence rarely take any action at all.
-Many local communities are very conservative, and the social stigma connected to being a victim of sexual violence, for example, is so debilitating that many women choose to keep quiet about what they have been through. They also have to weigh pros and cons of coming forward faced with the fact that many cases involving sexual violence never get to the court, says Altirifi.
This is something she hopes to change by raising awareness, and she continues to learn and to adapt the training sessions she is now providing herself. One of the most important factors of successful training is to facilitate an effective learning environment.
-I continuously discover something new meeting and talking to new groups of people at trainings, she says.
Research driving change
Back in the Blue Nile state, Hanaa Ibrahim Ahmed Altirifi is determined to continue providing training on gender-based violence and violence against women. She is also determined to invite more police officers. Asked if she is nervous about schooling police officers her eyes don’t even flicker.
-Being a researcher protects me. NGOs are demonized around here. They are distrusted by many; perceived as someone from the outside, too influenced by the West and trying to impose Western values. Research and researchers are respected in Sudan, and I can more freely than others speak my mind and teach others about these sensitive and at times controversial issues, she says.
Her experiences from previous sessions have inspired her to do more trainings, and to expand the scope - truly believing, and herself being proof, that research can drive change.
Facts/ training on GBV and VAW
- The manual used in the training is the outcome of ARUS research on violence against women.
- The main objective of the manual is to provide background information to trainers on gender, gender-based violence, and violence against women, as well as to provide guidance on gender sensitive research. Trainers can then use this information to provide training at universities and to NGO staff.
- The manual consists of four modules: A module designed to build trust among the participants, an introduction to the concept of gender, an introduction to the concepts of gender-based violence (GBV) and violence against women (VAW), and a module on gender sensitive research.
- With small adaptations, the first modules can be used directly in local communities as a means to raise awareness about gender issues.