In Sudan, family laws are formed and applied by the religious communities - Islamic, Christian and traditional African beliefs -creating a gendered citizenship that has led to the absence of 'equality before the law' not only between men and women in general but also between Sudanese women across religious and tribal affiliations. In contrast to the general literature on women's rights and Sudan, which focuses on Islamic family law exclusively, this paper conducts a comparative study of the competing perceptions of women's civil rights (such as marriage, divorce, inheritance, maintenance and financial custody of children, and alimony) among the elites of communities following both sharia and traditional law in Khartoum. The findings suggest that traditional law provides fewer civil rights for women than Islamic family law. Both northern and southern elite women interviewed for this study are continuously contesting, redefining and renegotiating their rights in an attempt to change family law from within through the impetus generated by international law. The paper argues that the two groups' discursive strategies to reform prevailing family law within the context of an Islamic state are qualitatively diverse and constructed quite separately. This is largely due to their complex relationship with the state and the fact that the sharia is structurally open to reinterpretation by ijtihad while traditional law is not.

Liv Tønnessen

Director of Center on Law and Social Transformation and Senior Researcher