Dismantling Sudan’s shadow pandemic

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Credit: Rita Morbia, Inter Pares

As featured in our 2020 Annual Report Sustaining Social Justice

For the better part of the last decade, the situation of violence against women in Sudan has been described by everyone from local feminist organizations to UN agencies as an “epidemic”, even a “pandemic”.

Faced now with COVID-19, the wider public understands the scope and scale of what those terms mean.

The Sudanese Organization for Research and Development (SORD), supported by Inter Pares, has long been working to dismantle what is now referred to as a “shadow pandemic”. SORD has provided free legal representation to women and girls in cases of child marriage or assault. They have educated judges on alternative interpretations of the law. They have created more just legislative tools, presenting them to civil society and government. And they have argued publicly for different political and social understandings of women’s roles in the public and private sphere.

In 2020, as a result of school closures, lockdowns  and social distancing measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, rates of sexual and gender-based violence in Sudan increased. It was a grim reality widely acknowledged, and witnessed up close by SORD’s lawyers providing legal assistance.

Wafaa is one of these lawyers. She is sharp, and despite years of listening daily to her clients’ heartbreaking realities, her vibrant personality continues to shine. As we are all learning, triumphing over a pandemic takes persistence and commitment, which Wafaa has demonstrated in spades.

For SORD, physical security and freedoms, and the ability to control one’s fertility and sexuality, are critical to women and girls being able to live their lives to their fullest potential. These are rights that SORD continues to promote - providing legal accompaniment as well as advocating for broader reproductive and sexual health, feminist reforms - despite the arrival of the other pandemic, COVID-19.

Inter Pares is pleased to accompany lawyers like Wafaa and her colleagues at SORD in their endeavour to end the shadow pandemic.

Inter Pares would like to acknowledge Global Affairs Canada for their financial support for this program.

Even as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, we are working to address the legal barriers standing in the way of the full realization of women’s rights in Sudan. The time to act is now. - Wafaa Ibrahim Hamid Mahmoud, SORD

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