Women of Sudan — ‘suppressed by any means’ — are protesting for equal rights in the post-Bashir era
In April, Sudan's president was overthrown after 30 years in power. With the shift in power, Sudanese women are demanding equality and decision-making power.
(Video: Mohanned El-Murdi Hamid, Joyce Lee, Max Bearak/Photo: Muhammad Salah/For The Washington Post/The Washington Post)
By Max Bearak, Washington Post, April 26, 2019
After three decades of dictatorial rule, Omar Hassan al-Bashir is out of power — the most obvious achievement of Sudan’s biggest protest movement.
But in the crowded streets of Khartoum, an even more indelible shift is taking place: Women, who were deprived by Bashir of freedoms afforded to men, are demanding equality.
From the stages at the center of a massive sit-in here to the tea stalls that dot its periphery, women addressed the new military government and the organizers of the protests, who are almost all men, saying: You will not overlook us.
Protest leader Halima Ishaq’s voice, amplified by a speaker system, easily overtook the hum of the crowd this past week. She is a refugee from Darfur, where Bashir is accused of orchestrating a genocide and mass rapes over a decade ago. She is a master orator, unafraid of ideas some here might find radical.
“We cannot get our freedom unless we are essential parts of the new government, not in soft positions in which decisions are not made,” she said in an interview before another speech. Men walking through the sit-in paused to contemplate her words.
“The laws that limit women must be lifted,” she said. Under Bashir, a quarter of parliamentary seats were reserved for women, who were mostly stand-ins for their husbands, many political analysts said. Laws in Sudan compel women to get a male relative’s approval to marry or divorce and govern how they can dress.
Female demonstrators march in Khartoum, Sudan, this month. (Muhammad Salah for The Washington Post)
Bashir’s interpretation of Islamic law was more lenient than, say, that of Saudi Arabia, where women have only recently been allowed to drive on their own. But Sudanese society is deeply conservative, and in addition to discriminatory laws, powerful societal roles such as judge or minister are entirely closed off to women.
Mohamed Yusuf al-Mustafa, the head of the Sudanese Professionals Association, which has been leading the protests, said he hopes a new civilian government will promote women’s equality.
“The ideology of the former regime was violently opposed to women’s rights. The mandating of 25 percent women in the legislature was for purely decorative purposes,” Mustafa said. “That is not how we see it — women are at every level of our structure. Leadership for us is based on merit.”
Mustafa’s support is seen as an improvement by some women. He and other male protest leaders have talked about increasing representation of women in parliament to 40 percent. But 40 percent is not equality. “We aim and aspire for 50 percent,” said Tahani Abbas, a lawyer for an organization called No to Women’s Oppression. “We want fair and equal participation based on qualifications.”
Despite the ubiquity of women in the protests, meetings between protest leaders and the military council are mostly attended by men and announced by men and do not explicitly address the demands of women.
Tahani Abbas of the group No to Women’s Oppression gives a speech during the march in Khartoum. (Muhammad Salah for The Washington Post) Bashir was deposed this month by former military allies who now occupy his palace in central Khartoum.
The negotiations to form a civilian-led government have moved slowly, with some calling them a “stalemate.” Mustafa’s organization is demanding that all executive power be handed over to civilians for an extended transition period until elections can be held.
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