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OPINION: A new dawn for women's rights in Sudan

by Judy Gitau | Equality Now
Friday, 12 April 2019 16:05 GMT

Sudanese women chant slogans near the home of a demonstrator who died of a gunshot wound sustained during anti-government protests in Khartoum, Sudan January 18, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

It is crucial that women are given a seat at the table to ensure their rights are central in the creation of a new political order

With the welcome announcement on Thursday that President Omar al-Bashir has finally stepped down in Sudan and consultations to form a transitional council to run the country are underway, it is crucial that women are given a seat at the table to ensure their rights are central in the creation of a new political order.

Women in Sudan have played a leading role in protests against Bashir’s autocratic rule over the past four months, spearheading dissent at great personal risk to call for greater civil rights and an end to pervasive gender discrimination.

Women have much to gain by a change of regime – under Bashir’s rule, they bore the brunt of his attacks on civil liberties, with laws and practices denying them even the most basic freedoms.

A system of male guardianship  leaves women and girls extremely vulnerable to a range of human rights abuses including child marriage, domestic abuse, and marital rape.

Sudan has one of the highest rates of female genital mutilation in the world, with the majority being subjected to the severest form, infibulation, involving the removal of all external genitalia and the stitching together of the two sides of the vulva. 

Sudan’s Personal Status Law of 1991 legalizes child marriage, with Article 40 giving fathers the explicit right to marry their daughters from the age of ten. Sudanese law also stipulates that women and girls, irrespective of their age, can only marry with the consent of a male guardian.

Sudan has one of the highest rates of child marriage globally. According to UNICEF, 12% of children are wed before they reach 15, and that number climbs to 34% for 18 years olds.

Under Public Order acts introduced by Bashir’s regime in 1996, police can arrest women and girls for "indecent or immoral behavior or dress". Transgressions such as wearing trousers, leaving hair uncovered, or being in the company a man who is not a family member, punishable by a fine and whipping.

Going forward, it is crucial that women’s and girl’s rights are enshrined and protected. This includes enacting and enforcing effective laws against sexual violence, child marriage and female genital mutilation. Public order laws that harm and discriminate against women and girls, and the repressive male guardianship system, should also be abolished.

Finally, as women and girls have demonstrated for a better Sudan, calling for rule of law, good governance and enforcement of human rights, let it not be lost in Sudan and the wider world that this too has been a protest for women’s rights.

As a new dawn breaks over the country, we know a new era of women’s rights is coming too and their struggle for equality, that has been going for decades unseen and unheard by many, is finally about to bear fruit.