This chapter explores how women’s rights and obligations are understood and negotiated within the context of an Islamic state in Sudan. It particularly deals with the ongoing debate on The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and Sharia (Islamic law). By analyzing a range of Islamist women’s positions, it becomes apparent that they reject CEDAW and gender equality on the one hand, and on the other promote issues which empower women politically and economically in Sudanese state and society.

The chapter concentrates on the views of Islamists who were interviewed for this study during fieldwork in Khartoum state in 2006 through 2011. The Islamists feminists belong to state-supported organizations and political parties: the Sudan Women’s General Union (SWGU), the International Muslim Women’s Union (IMWU), the National Congress Party (the ruling Islamist political party) and the Popular Congress Party (the Islamist party in opposition).

The chapter puts emphasis on the socioeconomic and political contexts of disputes and negotiations over women’s rights and duties in Islamic law as exposed in the debate on CEDAW. For many international development agencies and Western donors Sharia is regarded as anti-women and an obstacle to women’s empowerment and equality. Islamists postulate a view which promotes women’s empowerment within an Islamic frame. Putting an emphasis on gender equity (insaf), they bargain with patriarchy and negotiate gender relations employing both legal norms originating from Sharia and CEDAW. These negotiations are linked both to Western colonial rule in the past and Western aid donors, peacekeepers and development agencies in the present.  The result is that Islamist women advocate equality in rights in the public sphere, including politics and even the military. Within the family, however, male guardianship remains the rule.

Liv Tønnessen

Director of Center on Law and Social Transformation and Senior Researcher