SUDANESE WOMEN ON THE FRONT LINES OF THE RESISTANCE
Photography Credit: Duha Mohammed
15 November, 2021
Written by SIHA Regional Director, Hala alKarib
There is nothing more difficult than losing a child. There is nothing worse than losing our children as a result of treachery, ignorance, crime and short-sightedness, and this is what is happening in Sudan now. Dozens of young women and men have been killed by the bullets of the Sudanese military, and even as we are still mourning these losses, the death toll continues to rise. As of November 15th, Sudan Doctors’ Syndicate, estimated that 23 had been killed so far, and many more have been injured. It is critical here to acknowledge the contribution of the women of Sudan to democratic and civilian-led government.
Since the revolution’s instigation, Sudanese women brilliantly coordinated and effectively participated in the overthrow of the Bashir regime, with the proportion of women in the demonstrations in 2018-2019 estimated to have been at least 60%.
In the mid-1990s the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) stated that Sudan had more than 35% women-headed households. Fast-forward more than 23 years, the number of women-headed households in Sudan has probably doubled, if not more. While doing the lion’s share of care work and providing for their families, women have also, since 2019, made incredible strides to assert their agency and presence within households and public spheres. If this coup is allowed to last, Sudanese women will be dragged into a very dark corner.
We all know that the transitional period of the Sudanese revolution has not been ideal, and we are fully aware of the number of challenges and constraints that occurred. We also fully understand the root causes of these challenges, starting with the disproportionally designed political agreement, which allowed remnants of the Omar al Bashir regime to remain in power. This faction of the transitional government has never been interested in anything other than keeping Sudan captive to the same cycles of violence and poverty that have long been hindering Sudan’s opportunities to achieve stability and peace.
Although there has been no clear progress on legal and institutional reform towards gender equality in Sudan, we cannot deny the achievements made by the Sudanese people, women and men, throughout the transitional period, particularly, the success of Sudanese women in increasing and consolidating their presence in public places.
Women founded sports teams, involved themselves in creative activities, and entered professions that had been reserved for men during the previous regime, such as traffic police, technical professions, car mechanics, carpentry and public car driving. Sudanese women’s voices rose on all platforms, and through their participation in peaceful protests and marches, they demanded their human rights, while spreading awareness about the rights of women and girls.
Now, at this critical time in Sudan’s history, the women of Sudan are standing at the front lines, fighting once again to prevent their country from slipping back into dark times.
If this military coup succeeds in taking over the country, Sudanese women will face a new period of violence and marginalization that may be much worse than the era of Bashir, especially since no legal reform has taken place in the country. Sudan is still not a member of CEDAW, and Sudan has not signed or ratified any of the international protocols or instruments that could have improved the status of women. In addition, Sudan still has active laws that allow gender-based violence and impunity for perpetrators of violence against women and girls.
Moreover, women continue to be arrested for so-called ‘moral transgressions,’ despite the repeal of the Public Order Law in Sudan. Punishments are harsh, including flogging, imprisonment and, in some cases, execution. Poor women and girls, internally displaced people, refugees, and those living in areas of armed conflict continue to be the most vulnerable to these penalties and to organized violence. Lately reports, videos, and photos from female protesters have reflected clear targeting of women and girls on the streets. On the 25 of October a 30 year-old woman (B) spoke to SIHA’s team in Khartoum about her experiences participating in the anti-coup protests. B explained that as the protesters were nearing the army headquarters on Africa road, they were confronted by live ammunition and solders holding whips. B said she was beaten by two solders, who struck her all over her body, called her degrading names, and forcibly removed her Toub and her shoes. She said that she managed to flee, but left behind a woman on laying on the ground bleeding.
“I am a poor woman, I don’t have money or power, but I have my dignity and the love for my country and this is my consolation when I think about what happened to me.” – B, 25 October, 2021
The reasons Sudanese women took part in the revolution in large numbers are the same reasons they are taking part in the resistance against this treacherous coup. We are well aware that any military government will seriously jeopardize the rights, security and safety of women, especially with these fundamentalists and warlords at the helm.
A militarized system can only exist by eliminating any glimmer of hope towards accountability and the rule of law. The environment created by the presence of armed groups in civilian areas has time and again been accompanied by increases in sexual and gender-based violence. Already there are reports that a group of soldiers representing the coup stormed a hostel for girls in north Khartoum, and assaulted dozens of the female students there.
Sudanese women are well aware that their access to basic human rights and justice are conditioned upon the presence of a civil and democratic system of governance that respects women’s rights and humanity. Only under such a government can women be part of legal and political reform processes that will contribute to bringing about meaningful change. Until then, the women of Sudan remain on the front lines to resist any action that pushes them back or diminishes their humanity and the value of their contribution to society.