KHARTOUM – The Sudanese revolution that brought down the government of Omar al-Bashir back in April would not have happened without women, who knew a new era offering them a chance to reclaim their place and recognition so often out of reach because of tradition, religion and machismo was coming.
Women demonstrators, who took to the streets in numbers to help put an end to al-Bashir’s rule despite a ban on protests, knew their involvement would mean exposing themselves to all kinds of abuse from the security forces.
“We were exposed to beatings, kicked and held in police stations,” Tahani Abbas Ali, the head of the legal office of the women’s rights initiative “No to Women’s Oppression,” told EFE.
“There are more than 175 Sudanese women who were held in the Um Durman women’s prison for three months,” she added.
These women “were released from prison on March 7, which coincided with Sudan’s Women’s Day,” she said, adding in a sarcastic tone: “to show that we have women’s rights.”
Pressure on women has been hard, according to Abbas, who said some activists were raped in 2012 by pro-government militiamen and members of state security for protesting, something that “terrorized” Sudanese women who wanted to express themselves in public.
But the tactics of fear did not work, and now Abbas envisions a future in Sudan where women hold positions of decision-making.
“When we remember our requests and the feminist agenda enshrined in the Constitution … they immediately confront us with a campaign of rejection, (they tell us) it’s not our time yet,” she said.
But for Abbas, the requests of women need to be heard in order for the State of Sudan to be reformed. “We want the feminist agenda to be taken into account in a special way.”
She recalled how Al-Bashir’s regime “degraded the dignity and rights of women,” and that even those women who held positions were mere “decorations,” there to show the international community that there was “equality” in the African nation.
The activist said there “is still a family code in Sudan that allows for the marriage of 10-year-old girls, a nationality law preventing Sudanese women married to foreigners from granting citizenship to their children, and an immigration law that prevents a woman from traveling with her children without her husband’s permission.”
“We’re trying to break free of this macho mindset,” she said.
The Freedom and Change coalition of opposition parties has agreed to a 40 percent representation of women in the political sphere, but for Abbas, that quota doesn’t go far enough.
“We aspire to 50 percent,” she said, adding that Sudanese women are academically and morally ready for legislative and ministerial roles.
She said names have been put forward for the Sovereign Council, the organ that will lead the country for the next three years and has been in negotiations with the opposition and military for weeks.
“What’s disappointing for the female bloc in general is the male dominance existing in the negotiations,” she said.
The leader of the Women Politicians coalition, Entesar al-Aqli, told EFE the Freedom and Change platform has not adhered to the 40 percent women quota in all the institutions of the transitory authority.
Al-Aqli also lamented that fair female participation has not been discussed across all the committees that make decisions on change.
Nahed Jabrala, a representative for the civil community of the Freedom and Change alliance said Sudanese women did not see their requests as “a gift that is asked of someone.”
It’s having an egalitarian participation in the mechanisms of change to achieve “real change and democratic transformation that achieves the goals of the revolution,” Jabrala said.
“This message is not only for the Military Council, but also for all those of the Declaration of Freedom and Change, and its goal to guarantee a true transition to democracy with a fair participation of women,” said Jabrala.