Download this publication

Government policy since independence has by and large disregarded Sudan's multi-religious character through continuous Islamisation and Arabisation processes that have fuelled the civil war. International considerations regarding religious pluralism and the accommodation of different religious communities were at the forefront in the peace negotiations. The study outlines Islamic actors' perception of non-Muslims' rights after the comprehensive peace agreement (2005), including the rights of apostates. Also, the study elaborates how non-Muslims themselves perceive their rights within the frame of Islam.

In their eagerness to include marginalised religious groups, Sudanese and international peacebuilders ignored gender issues during the negotiations. In the name of religious freedom, the CPA and the national interim constitution have left the civil rights of women to the country's religious communities - Islamic, Christian, and traditional African beliefs. Muslim and non-Muslim leaders alike perceive this as an intrinsic religious right. Civil rights such as marriage, divorce, inheritance, maintenance and financial custody of children, and alimony are perhaps the most tangible and important in the daily lives of "ordinary" Sudanese women. Yet, the CPA and the national interim constitution have not defined how the religious and tribal family laws that regulate women's civil rights are being and should be formed and applied in today's Sudan. Sudanese woman are granted different civil rights depending on which religious or tribal community they belong to. This study outlines the main discriminatory features in what has become a complicated patchwork of plural legalities for Sudanese women since the peace agreement.

Religiously defined laws in and by themselves are not necessarily discriminatory against women, but this plural legal system does not guarantee all Sudanese women equal civil rights as enforced in today's Sudan. The study shows that there are ongoing debates within the religious communities towards maintaining or changing the discriminatory features of religious and tribal family laws. Despite the fact that most Sudanese elite women deem their current "rights status" as discriminatory, they do not demand a secular law on women's civil rights. They promote "changing from within" by reinterpreting and transforming the religious and tribal laws in a more gender equal direction.

Liv Tønnessen

Director of Center on Law and Social Transformation and Senior Researcher