The month of April in 2019 has been historically remarkable for Sudan as they overthrew longtime president Omar-al-Bashir from power. The military took over the country’s ruling system as a result of elongated protests by the Sudanese. As the Defense Minister Awad Mohamed Ahmed Ibn Auf announced Al-Bashir being taken into military custody as per the indiction by International Criminal Court on the charges of committing genocides and crimes against humanity, the country lauded with victory; the victory which was predominantly driven by women of the country,
Women were at the forefront of this uprising which overthrew the president who was serving from last 30 years. Hyper inflation causing the worst economic crisis of the decade stroke the protest in December. Through in-ground and online media platforms, women spoke up and carried on the process which resulted in their success in April.
In the limelight is the iconic photo of 22 year old Alaa Salah leading the protest amidst the huge crowd. Her traditional attire- a white “toub” and golden moon earrings- with her fingers uprising and addressing the mass atop from the roof of a car has become the symbol of the revolution. The photo was taken in Khartoum, Sudan’s Capital. In one of the video released from the event, she was singing ‘Revolution’. She also appeared sharing that women have voice and they need better environment to live.
Alaa Salah is one of the hundreds of women who have actively led this protest. Sudan, where women right is abysmal, their out coming is a big achievement in itself. The protest has not only been significant to throw the failing power, but also bring to light the women’s rights and needs. Following the country’s public order laws, women are controlled in their freedom of dress, behavior and education. They are not allowed to walk, travel or work by themselves in street without ‘male guardianship’ or wear what they want.
The gender disparity is widespread in multiple arenas in Sudan- education, health sector, political participation, policies for marriages and sexual violence, to name a few. The gap in labor market between men and women is highly prominent, 76.9% of men are active in the ‘formal’ labor force compared to that of women, 30.9%.1 Likewise, Maternal Mortality rates are comparatively much higher than in developed countries with 311 death per 100,000 live births, as of 2015.2 Child marriages of girls aged below 10 years are still considered legal. Forced Marriages and Marital Rape is legal. In 2017, a case of a child bride Noura Hussein led to international condemnation for Sudan’s women’s rights issue as she killed her husband for attempting rape. An online petition with 1.5 million signatures was collected to reduce the sentence to five-year jail.
Sudan is also one of the only six countries who have not signed the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of violence against Women (CEDAW) along with Holy See, Iran, Somalia, South Sudan and Tonga. Harmful social norms like female genital mutilation is rampant, with 88% of Sudanese women reported as having been subjected to the procedure.3 The research by WHO on the topic showed that social pressure, particularly from older women was the biggest influence, whereas, women themselves consider is reasonable to ‘satisfy the husband’.
These are not merely the reasons for revolution, but the result of repressive and fundamentalist regime. The major casualties of the regime were women, as Al-Bashir who started his term after coup in 1989, has only reiterated religious fundamentalist views which has kept women forever under repression. The regime had also targeted women activists through travel bans, asset freezing and judicial cases against them as well as detaining activists and denouncing “those who conspire” against the state and “seek to attack it”.
Triggered by major hikes in living cost and fueled up by the inherent oppression, Sudanese women raised their voice relentlessly. In the revolution started from December, there was more than 70% women participation, a BBC report estimates. Chanting ‘Zagrouda’ i.e. the women’s chant which was the calling code for every protest, women led the revolution. However Alaa Salah including other women are not completely satisfied with the military control, and are further demanding civilian authority in the state matters. They are demanding justice, and recognition to women’s rights. They are demanding what is rightfully theirs- freedom.