In Sudan, Courage Means Women Who Persist

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Participants dance during a SORD workshop on feminism. Credit: Rita Morbia

The #JusticeForNoura campaign started in Sudan, but echoed around the world
earlier this year after Noura Hussein was condemned to death by the state. At 16 years old, Noura was forced into marriage by her father. She was raped by her husband, and killed him in an act of self-defence. The campaign brought international attention to Noura’s case as well as Sudanese laws that allow child marriage and marital rape.

Every day and through every stage of life, the rights and freedoms of women in Sudan are compromised. Inheritance laws reinforce systemic, life-long discrimination against women, and family laws subject women and girls to violations of their rights, including child marriage. Public order laws restrict women’s movement and travel, as well as what women can wear. Our counterparts in Sudan, the Sudanese Organization for Research and Development (SORD) and SWRC, are part of the courageous women’s rights movement that fights these laws and supports women as they experience and resist this ubiquitous social control. They have persisted in this work for decades.

The pain created by these laws is emotional and physical. Rania, a young woman who is a member of SWRC, was arrested, jailed and eventually flogged – 40 lashes for having a conversation with a male friend in a car near her home. The public order laws, like those applied against Rania, are enforced aggressively and frequently. Punishment includes flogging and a fine – a horrific way for the state to generate income.

The women’s rights movement in Sudan has a long and vibrant history. Generations of activists have fought this struggle and continue to do so, despite a relentless trajectory of ever greater restrictions on women’s rights over the last generation. Still, creativity and courage abound. With support from Inter Pares, SORD runs a legal aid program to provide representation, advice and accompaniment to women who have experienced violence and discrimination, particularly in the context of family law. It is staffed by inspiring lawyers, most of whom are women. Across the country, young activists organize around events like International Women’s Day and harness the power of online solidarity – as seen with the #JusticeForNoura campaign. It takes courage to persist in this work, but with our support Sudanese women, and the men who support them, continue with hope and determination. They envision a future in which women in Sudan can live full lives, contribute to society, and exist safely within it.

Sudanese women envision a future in which women can live full lives, contribute to society, and exist safely within it.

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