Published on The Daily Femme – Thursday, Dec. 23, 2010
Contributed by Annamarya
It’s November in Omdurman, Sudan. A woman covered in a wildly colorful hijab and a black burqa emblazoned with blue decorative symbols appears scared beyond belief. She tries to subdue the fear by moving around and shaking her hands before she kneels to the ground, dreading what’s to come. In this public place, a large circle of seemingly unaffected onlookers has gathered. They watch as the first lash of the police whip comes down hard on the woman’s body. She backs away with every fire-hot snap that strikes against her flesh. Her wails are terrifying, haunting, as is the laughter of the two police officers administering the flogging. It’s her punishment for a vague offense, and it was all caught on tape.
That video, which made heavy rounds on YouTube and has yet to be removed (despite Reuters’ assertion), prompted hundreds of Sudanese women and men to peacefully protest against the country’s public order laws that they say humiliate women. They had a petition condemning flogging in hand and a passionate call for judicial reform. They sat outside the Ministry of Justice shouting slogans and holding banners. And despite a constitution that protects freedom of assembly, nearly 50 protesters — mostly women — were arrested. Police forcibly broke up the crowd, assaulting a BBC correspondent and confiscating their equipment in the process. According to Human Rights Watch, the protesters have since been released, but a number face charges for disturbing the peace and being a public nuisance.
In accordance with Islamic law (Shari’a), flogging is a common, daily punishment in Sudan for crimes ranging from adultery to drinking alcohol. However, flogging also violates Article 5 of the African Charter of Human and People’s Rights that prohibits “cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment or treatment.” Sudan’s laws on women, however, are a lot less defined; according to Human Rights Watch, Article 152 of Sudan’s Criminal Act of 1991 prohibits women from performing “indecent and immoral acts.” Women accused of behaviors that authorities deem improper — including dancing, smoking, interacting with men or wearing trousers in public (as was the case in 2009 when Sudanese UN official, Lubna Hussein, and 12 other women were arrested for such an “offense”) — may face arrest and receive up to 40 lashes. While the 10 southern states in Sudan are protected from Shari’a law through the Interim National Constitution, the mostly non-Muslim southern Sudanese population, says Human Rights Watch, is targeted for the production of alcohol, an legal offense punishable by flogging.
These systematic prohibitions based on moral law are antiquated, repressive, violate woman’s fundamental right to personal expressive freedoms and need to be reformed by the Sudanese government immediately. As Rona Peligal, Africa director at Human Rights Watch, has said, these laws “effectively diminish women’s social, economic and political participation.” How can any country expect to have a flourishing, thriving, creative and economically stable society if it oppresses its residents? It’s these ever-occurring incidents that spotlight the women’s long road ahead toawrd true global gender equality.