How They Silence Women

Sexual abuse and threats for women rights defenders in Sudan

Sudan is ruled by one of the most oppressive regimes in the world. As Words in the Bucket mentioned in a previous article, the country ranks 174 out of 180 in press freedom, and freedom of speech and opinion is not well accepted in the country. While male journalists, protesters and bloggers are harshly oppressed through detentions or sabotage, women activists are also given a different treatment based on their gender. A Human Rights Watch (HRW) report titled ‘Good girls do not protest’, documents the pattern of abuse women activists experience in the hands of the security forces and the restrictive environment in which they work. The detailed report describes all types of sexual assaults Sudanese women experience if arrested protesting against government policies including corruption. The report highlights that the women activists as such lack protection in Sudan, being beaten and prosecuted for things as small as wearing trousers, and calls the United Nations (UN) to intervene and research this issue, and find a way to protect women in general in Sudan.

Sadly, there are too many examples.  On August 2012 when MS Summaya Ismail, a Sudanese Journalist, left her home in Khartoum for shopping, she was cornered by two vehicles and four armed men who introduced themselves as national security elements, abducted her, and sped away to unknown isolated building where she was detained, bruised and gang raped for 3 days only because she was a well-known journalist fighting against corruption in Sudan. After her release she managed to flee the country and has settled in Egypt where she immediately released a video clip telling the world her shocking story.

On September 2013, Ms. Suffiya, a human rights activist was also allegedly abducted and raped by the Sudanese National Security after her active participation in a seven-day long demonstration in Khartoum organized by students from different universities in the city. Ms Suffyia also published her story on Facebook after she was released saying that she had been raped along with other tens of girls abducted during the demonstration.

Similarly on October 2014, a female student from Elfasher University was also raped while she was performing her night prayers by a person armed by a knife who is believed to have sneaked into the building after jumping over the wall. This survivor was known for her fiery speeches and criticism against the war in Darfur. Sadly when she reported the case to the police she was accused of adultery, kept in the custody and was flogged 80 lashes because she failed to prove her case and bring the witnesses to testify the incident of her rape.

The HRW report is the result of interviews with 85 rape survivors, and confirms that women activists are more likely to receive threats or be sexually assaulted by the security officers whether they are in detention or in custody. The rape survivors are also threatened not to disclose the information, therefore most women survivors keep silent and distant themselves from public life whilst some leave the country.

Although issues related to sexual violence against women is considered as too sensitive to be covered in the print media, it is widely covered in various media outlets such as,  the website of Radio Dabgana ( a local Radio focused on the Darfur conflict) that stated that the Sudanese Security forces have used sexual violence, intimidation and other forms of abuse to silence women human rights defenders in Sudan and called the government to investigate all alleged abuses and to hold those responsible to account.

Sudan has public morality laws that evidently discriminate against women. These laws state how women should dress, how they should be subordinate to men and their movements controlled (for example married women are not allowed to travel without the consent of the husbands). Violation of such laws exposes women to humiliating corporal punishment of lashing or even stoning. Because of these laws women know that they will likely not be protected if they report cases of rape. In fact, most survivors never report these cases as they fear they will be fabricated and then accused of adultery, where they will be further corporally punished or imprisoned. These laws and their punishments are against UN Security Council resolutions such as 1325 and others, which call for women peace and security and their protection from gender based violence.

To end violence against women activists in Sudan, the government should comply with all the human treaties/conventions and the UN Security Council Resolutions, some of which they have already signed. Sudan should also ratify the convention against torture, inhuman degrading and Treatment or punishment; the convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women without reservation and to ratify the Protocol to the African Charter on Human Rights People’s Rights on the Right of Women in Africa.

The government must also lift restrictions on expression and association and create a conducive environment for female human rights activists to demonstrate peacefully for expressing their opinion. The Sudanese government should also build the capacity of its national security to respect human rights standards when dealing with female activists: rape and other forms of sexual violence should not be used as tools of punishment as these are considered gender crimes.

Additionally, the UN in Sudan including the African Union should coordinate to protect human rights defenders and activists including those who are exposed to gender and other forms of violence. Finally, the African Union  and UN human rights Rapporteurs need to increase their monitoring visits to investigating crimes of human rights violation in Sudan.

Human Rights
Sabir Abdalla

Sabir Abdalla is a pseudonim created to protect the identity of the author. He is gender specialist working on issues related to women’s empowerment programs in Sudan. He is also an advocate for women’s protection, women’s human rights in Sudan and his goal is to work to end existing gender inequalities in Sudan.
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