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The Violation of Women's Rights in Sudan: In the Name of the Law?

Women are suffering at the hands of police, state security services and repressive laws.
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Lubna Hussein (pictured) is campaigning for article 152 to be eliminated after she was imprisoned under the repressive law for wearing trousers.

Khartoum, Sudan:

For decades, the women of Sudan have been suffering under article 152 of the penal code, an inhumane, vicious and notorious law first implemented in 1991.

Article 152 of Sudan’s criminal code stipulates that any conduct or clothing in violation of public decency be punished with 40 lashes. The law, which mainly targets women, is vague as to what constitutes indecent clothing, leaving room for the disreputable and abusive Public Order Police to arrest whoever they deem to be dressed inappropriately or committing an act of indecency.

Many women have been arrested under this article. They have been taken from streets, public places, cars or even their homes in some rare cases; they have been ‘caught’ in the same place as partners or friends of the opposite sex without being able to show proof of a recognised, first degree relationship.

The Public Order Police forces are known for patrolling the streets of Khartoum and arresting anyone they deem immoral or in opposition to Islamic values. Sudanese women from various backgrounds, ethnicities, ages and social statuses continue to be harassed by the abusers and executors of Article 152.

Public lashing of women

Incidents invoked by Article 152 often allow for policemen’s ugly side to surface. In this graphic video, an unarmed 16-year old girl is seen being lashed by unmasked policemen for an undisclosed crime. As she howls, the policemen at the Khartoum Police Station are seen laughing and taking a perverse enjoyment in her suffering. The video went viral on YouTube on December 12, 2010 and caused outrage both locally and internationally.

On July 3, 2009, thirteen women were arrested in Khartoum under article 152 of the criminal code for wearing trousers. They were sentenced to ten lashes and bail was set at $100. However, three of the women, including a well-known journalist named Lubna Hussein, refused the punishment and asked for a lawyer and court hearing.

At the hearing, Hussein and the other three women were granted a presidential pardon, but the women refused it. Instead, they challenged the judge to eliminate article 152 of the criminal code.

Hussein spoke to international human rights organisations about the cruelty of the law. She appeared on television shows and interviews wearing the same pair of trousers that got her arrested, asking the viewers to determine themselves where the indecency of her attire lied.

The rape of Safia

On February 13, 2012, Safia Ishaq, a young female artist was gang-raped by three members from the Sudanese National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) for participating in a mass protest on January 30, 2011.

Two NISS officers arrested Safia as she was on her way to buy art supplies in Khartoum. The men forced her into a van and beat her on the way to the NISS premises where she was detained. During her detention, Safia was beaten, questioned about her activities and subjected to verbal abuse. When one of the officers tried removing her skirt and she tried to stop him, she was beaten unconscious. Her hands were tied with her scarf while three men violated her.

Upon her release, Safia refused to stay silent. She uploaded a video on YouTube where she recalled her experience, subsequently becoming the first Sudanese woman to publicly come out and speak about sexual assault by the security organisation. However, speaking out came at a price and Safia and, to avoid the social stigma, she eventually left for Europe.

Two journalists, Amal Habbani and Saad Eldin Ibrahim, who wrote about Safia’s rape also paid a high price for speaking out and were arrested and imprisoned.

Crackdown on female activists

Female activists over the past months and years have been subjected to intimidation by the NISS and had their homes raided and personal belongings confiscated numerous times.

In late February, NISS officers raided the house of a human rights activist, Nazik Kabalo, and confiscated the hard drive of her computer, her documents and her mobile phone. She was called for questioning and subjected to an interrogation that lasted over eight hours. Kabalo was asked to return the following day for further interrogation, but instead, fearing for her safety, fled Sudan. “They said that if I didn’t cooperate, they will kill me and throw my body away,” she told a non-violent youth opposition movement Girifna (‘We Are Fed Up’).

In March, the Public Order Police shot dead a female activist from the Nuba Mountains who was trying to defend her brother who was being beaten by officers who claimed that he was consuming alcohol. Her death inspired a wave of protests in her neighbourhood.

A couple of weeks later, Jalila Khamis Koko, another female activist from the Nuba Mountains, was arrested from her home in Al Shajara, Khartoum. NISS police forces raided her house and arrested Jalila still in her nightclothes. Her son’s pleas to allow her to cover herself up went ignored. Jalila remains in detention.

Campaigns against violation

There are several campaigns calling on the protection of women’s rights in Sudan, including The National and International Campaign to Eliminate Article 152 of Sudan's Criminal Code. These are bolstered by youth movements such as Girifna are calling for an end to state-sponsored systematic violence and rape across the country.

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 Nicely written! ...Thanks Maha. Article 152 as well as many other codes in the Sudanese constitution are an absolute shame in a 21rst century time. Feminist movements - including men and women of different ages- have always taken the lead not only fighting for women's rights, but also standing for general human rights demanding an equal treatment for many other minority groups.we need activists and women like yourself to speak out....ways to go Sudanese feminists!....keep up the great work...