Human Rights Watch (HRW) has recently called on the Sudanese government to put a stop to all acts of violence against female human rights defenders, activists and protesters in the country. More specifically, these women include members of civil society, students, teachers, journalists, lawyers, protesters and others working for social justice in Sudan.
This call did not just occur in a vacuum, it was in reaction to the ongoing and persistent abuse towards the above mentioned ‘brand’ of women who have decried the rape and violent acts carried out by some members of the Sudanese armed forces. Many a time women are abused for speaking out against what they know is wrong.
The “do not protest” embargo placed on Sudanese women by the armed forces is mostly reminiscent of war times and is considered by the HRW as repressive and evil. However, those who suffer most from these acts are the Sudanese women themselves, who are mostly defenceless as no one is left to speak for them in the country.
The theme for International Women’s Day earlier this month was “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality,” and even the current Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has goals for gender equality. But, in Sudan, these goals remain unattainable as women are still considered second class citizens. So far, the government has said nothing even as women’s voices are silenced through threatening means like rape and physical assault.
According to the March 2016 HRW report; “Good girls don’t protest,” Over 85 female activists and human rights defenders in Sudan were interviewed and their testimonies point to the fact that these women have been through various patterns of abuse perpetrated by government security forces. The security forces either choose to do them bodily harm or try to tarnish their reputations and the latter is quite effective because in Africa, it is easy to believe the worst about women even though the opposite may be the case. As one of the women told HRW, there is a “clear stigma on the girls and women who are working in the field of women’s rights and engaging in the rights arena.”
Sudan has become a country where words and phrases like “human rights,” “democracy,” “women’s rights,” “protection,” “sexual violence,” and “women’s participation” scare the government so much that women activists are branded the opposition and subjected to various forms of ill-treatment and humiliation.
After participating in a 2011 Girifna large scale anti-government protest, Safiya Ishaq, a Sudanese woman who now lives in France, became a victim of rape. Two male security agents in plainclothes abducted her and took her to the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) office to intimidate and sexually abuse her.
“Two men in plain clothes shouted me “ya bit ya bit!” [hey girl!] and I turned to run but they caught me and forced me into a small white car. I tried to scream but one of them put his hand over my mouth…they were hitting me all over my upper body. They threw me on the ground and were beating me and kicking me with their boots. They accused me of distributing fliers for Girifna…they insulted me saying I am a communist and an indecent girl.” When I woke up I found two men holding my legs and the other one raping me. Three of them took turns and raped me. I was in a lot of pain. My hands were tied with my headscarf.”
After violating her, the men told her to leave and threatened they would rape her again if she continued her activities. Safiya walked home in pain and sought medical care for her wounds. With help from friends, she reported the crime to the police and prosecutors, but was told by the police not to proceed with the case.
“The policeman said security wouldn’t do such a thing and told me not to proceed with my complaint because it would ruin my family name,” she told HRW.
Several of the women interviewed are based in Darfur, Northern State, Red Sea state and White Nile, as well as those now based in the United States, Egypt, Uganda and the United Kingdom. This pattern of behaviour has been going on since 2011, when the government security forces instituted a crackdown on protesters, the media and other avenues of speaking out against the wrong status quo.
If nothing is done soon to rectify this situation, then Sudanese women bold enough to fight for gender equality, will keep fleeing the country out of fear till there is no one left left to fight for those women back home who are too afraid to speak up.