Photo: Abdulgader Bashir

“We - The women of Sudan - recognize that the personal is political. We know for a fact that discrimination and inequality begin in the family system and the unequal power dynamics that govern it, placing women in inferior and vulnerable positions.”

From the Feminist Manifesto, developed by a number of civil society organizations that work on women rights and gender issues in Sudan.

 

Following the Sudanese Revolution of December 2018, women put gender based violence on the political agenda. While the promise of the revolution was justice and freedom, women report an increase in gender-based violence within both private and public spheres.  While there may be many factors contributing to this, including the Covid-19 pandemic, women protestors attribute this to the growing anti-women rhetoric in public spaces and social media and the mobilization against the revolution for freedom and change by supporters of the previous Islamist regime. Women’s bodies continue to be battlefields of competing ideologies and political forces in Sudan. Even the alliance supposedly working for freedom and change have continuously sidelined women in the transitional period. This despite the fact that women have played a key role in the protests leading up to the revolution – several outlets have reported the share of female protesters to be above 60 %, most of them young.

The Women’s Protest - A Recount of Events:

In an effort to resist and bring attention to the rise of violence against women in Sudan, several bodies working on women rights and gender issues in Sudan have led the organization of The Women’s Protest. The protest demanded the promotion of an inclusive society and achieving gender equality through legal reforms such as the abolition of the Personal Status Law, criminalization of sexual harassment, and the amendment of the Sudanese Criminal Law to address loopholes allowing perpetrators of domestic violence to walk free of consequences. On the 8th of April, in one of the most historical displays of resistance since the 2018 December’s Revolution, hundreds of Sudanese women took to the streets in Khartoum to protest against domestic and gender-based violence. Signs and chants included “we are with you”, in a show of solidarity for survivors of sexual violence, and “to those who threaten to beat us, the streets are our right”, a chant to reclaim and affirm that safe existence on the street is a fundamental right.

On the 8th of April, in one of the most historical displays of resistance since the 2018 December’s Revolution, hundreds of Sudanese women took to the streets in Khartoum to protest against domestic and gender-based violence.

The protest aimed to shed light on violence against women both in public and private spaces. Two events prompted the protest. The first is related to the continued sexual harassment and violence women face when moving in public spaces. The public order law infringed on women’s fundamental freedoms for decades, for example by criminalizing certain behaviour like ‘indecent clothing’. The law was despised by Sudanese women and was in the end abolished by the transitional government. But as Reem Abbas brilliantly writes, the mentality of the public order law remains even if the law itself has been abolished. In fact, a campaign emerged on social media under the title "خلي سوطك جنبك - take your whip", calling male citizens to beat and whip women on the street whom they deem to be dressing in an “inappropriate manner”.  The campaign which displayed very misogynistic and violent language, was very well organized, specifying locations in which women should be attacked. Some men volunteered to pay for the gas so that people would be able to drive around in cars hence making it easier to get to a larger number of women. Some have even distributed free whips in the markets, for those who vouch to use it to beat women.

Some men volunteered to pay for the gas so that people would be able to drive around in cars hence making it easier to get to a larger number of women.

To further aggravate the situation, nor the police or other related authorities have taken any action to address the campaign of terror. Instead, the now Ex-Director-General of Khartoum State Police, Issa Adam Ismail, made a statement declaring that the campaign "aligns with the morals, culture, and traditions of the conservative Sudanese society". He also stated that the campaign was triggered and responded to the abolition of the public order law. His statement led to his removal from office, as it sparked outrage and condemnation from many citizens, journalists, and  women’s rights activists, with more than one hashtag surfacing on social media calling for his dismissal from Khartoum Police. Many considered his words to be a green light for perpetrators to continue to commit violence against women.

Many considered his words to be a green light for perpetrators to continue to commit violence against women.

The second is related to a case of domestic violence, or rather a brutal and meaningless killing. In March, we once again witnessed violence against women in one of its ugliest yet most tolerated forms: a father killing his daughter. Samah, aged 14, was run over by a car then shot 3 times by her father for leaving the house without his permission, an incident that took place after arguments about which school she should attend. As disturbing as this act of violence was, the response was even more shocking; the father walked free. This speaks to an overt injustice in the Sudanese Criminal Law that does not incriminate domestic violence; it leaves the decision of whether or not murderers should be accountable for their crime to the “head of the family” or the guardian of the victim. In this case it is the father himself who gave himself a license to kill his daughter. This and other cases of domestic violence, like the one of Sajda, a young girl in Darfur region who was also murdered by her father, have been brought to the fore in (social) media platforms, increasing the frustration of people and specially the women’s movement in the face of inaction from related authorities.

As disturbing as this act of violence was, the response was even more shocking; the father walked free.

Women Rights Groups and The Feminist Manifesto:

 “We - The women of Sudan - know that we are not free, nor are we equal citizens in the eyes of the state.

 Dysfunctional power relations within the family have exposed women to the woes of oppression, made them hostage to the authority of male guardians, legalized violence against women and girls, and worked to restrict by denying them access to resources, education and training opportunities.

 Exploited are our souls and bodies, in our private spaces with the blessing of political and societal authority”

From the Feminist Manifesto, developed by a number of civil society organizations that work on women rights and gender issues in Sudan

 

The Feminist Manifesto was presented to the Ministry of Justice on Thursday April 8, 2021. It represents the aspirations of some of the women's rights groups participating in the Women's march. The Feminist Manifesto is the outcome of two years of extensive work done by SIHA organization, in the form of consultations with more than 250 women from different grassroots movements and regions in Sudan, who carried with them the characteristics of diversity that Sudan possesses. The groups who drafted the statement hope that it can serve as a base for an intersectional feminist agenda, adopted by Sudanese women in various regions of the country as they continue to struggle for democracy, rights and justice. The statement was momentous in its nature, as it unapologetically detailed demands for radical equal rights and justice, in a move that was considered by many to be bold in a country where patriarchy thrives.

 

“We - The women - acknowledge that women in Sudan are not homogeneous,

We are different in terms of ethnicity, class, culture, religion, and disability. Our diversity must be a source of strength that unites us in our feminist struggle for justice, equality, freedom, decent living. We realize that our differences expose us to oppression differently, due to the intersection of patriarchal systems with other systems of oppression such as racism, classism, and ableism.

 We believe in a Sudan free from discrimination, a home for women - including refugees and immigrants - that celebrates its diversity, a country in which women enjoy security and well-being. We are united in our longing for a Sudan that we want, our demands that have not declined over the decades, and solidarity with all those suffering from injustice, both women and men”

From the Feminist Manifesto, developed by a number of civil society organizations that work on women rights and gender issues in Sudan

 

The declaration demands are detailed in three themes. The first is policy and legislation, and it mainly asks for legal reform of discriminatory laws as well as tougher enforcement laws for the protection of women and girls. The second is peace and transitional justice, which details demands regarding the full, active, and meaningful participation of women in the implementation of the peace agreement. The third is economic and social rights, which focuses on gender sensitivity in policy making that will ensure women’s effective participation in social and economic spheres.

Through the document, the women groups share the manifestations of politics in their lived experiences, the importance of social safety nets, and the role of the state in creating safe spaces for women. Additionally, the document also discusses the concept of unpaid work carried out by millions of women in Sudan, and recognizes the roots of marginalization and oppression based on gender, the intersections with other systems of oppression and the need to collectively resist them.

Protestors Met with Violent Backlash

The protestors at the women’s march on April 8 were met with violence. Some of the protestors were run over by a car driven by a man. At first, he threatened the women, saying that if they did not get off the street he would run them over. The women refused to move, and he bolted his car towards the crowd, injuring four to six women who were then taken to the hospital. The police protected the attacker, rather than the protestors.

Some of the protestors were run over by a car driven by a man.

 A few moments later, a group of  protestors decided to report the car incident and other violations the women protestors faced during the march. On the way there, a feminist and human rights activist was physically assaulted, verbally harassed, and threatened with rape for her and the rest of her protesting companions by a group of male assailants. By the end of the day, 11 cases were officially reported to the police, many more remain unreported.

The protest was not only met with violent backlash in the streets, but also on social media. Several women protestors were harassed on their personal social media platforms, being called “communists” and “seculars”, words that have negative connotations in our context. Additionally, they were also met with misogynist and sexist slurs such as “matloogat”, a word that literally translates to women who are not “put on a leash”, which is usually used to refer to women who do things against the social norms or against their families will. The attackers were mostly men, and many of them used a mix of patriarchal and Islamist narratives to describe the many things they find repulsive about the women’s march. In addition, videos of female protestors were edited placing fake audios on them, which narrated how the "feminists" were exploiting vulnerable and poor women to come to the protest by telling them they would give them food supplies for Ramadan.

The protest was not only met with violent backlash in the streets, but also on social media.

This must all be seen against the backdrop of a counter-revolutionary movement as an attempt to disgrace the women and their demands for freedom, dignity and protection against gender based violence. The violent reactions and backlash were intended to push women from the streets and back into their homes; to silence women from demanding their rights. But it has caused the exact opposite. This protest, which I myself participated in, has reminded us Sudanese women that despite our distinct lived experiences and backgrounds, we have much in common. It has paved the path to productive and empathetic conversations among women themselves, and also formed the first building block for a National Sudanese Women’s Agenda.

 

This Sudan blog post is written by Ilaf Nasreldin. Nasreldin is a 25 years old Sudanese Gender Expert. She is the Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of AMNA, a youth-led organization that advocates against violence against
women (VAW) in Sudan. She’s an activist for human rights, peacebuilding, social justice and development with a special focus on gender related issues.

The views expressed in this post are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the ARUS project or CMI.