Sudanese Women Fight Against Oppression
By Teresa Sfeir
As protestors continue to seek justice in the streets of Sudan, security forces continue to stand in their way. It is reported that on Sunday, February 10, security forces used tear gas to break up a protesting group that is made up of hundreds. Most of them were women demonstrating against the detention of women who were arrested at previous protests.
A 32-year-old female activist in Khartoum says, “Even those women who cannot leave their homes are helping to shelter people being dispersed by police. Grandmothers who cannot march are standing outside their homes and banging pots and pans to motivate protesters.”
Hala Al-Karib, regional director of the Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa told Thomson Reuters Foundation that the scale of female participation in the protests is unprecedented. Women make up 70% of marchers at some protests, according to observers, despite a violent crackdown of security forces and attempts of sexual harassment.
Women are detained by the Sudanese National Security Intelligence Services (NISS) in Omdurman’s women’s prison. Jode Tariq, a 23-year-old Sudanese girl, told of how her headscarf was ripped off when she was detained on January 31. She says, “They cut the bun off my head with a razorblade and they threatened me with rape when I was taken in their truck from downtown Khartoum.”
Sudanese women’s activity has not been limited to the streets. A large group of Sudanese women has been exposing the identities of security agents through a Facebook group. Upon exposing their identities, security agents are beaten up and chased out of their towns.
The law in Sudan allows for marriage of a girl once she hits puberty. It also states that a ten-year-old girl’s guardian can wed her to someone with the permission of a judge. International concern was raised on the rights of women in Sudan after Noura Hussein was sentenced to death for killing her husband in self-defense as he tried to rape her. “These morality laws are used arbitrarily to criminalise women. We can be flogged or jailed for not having our hair covered or for wearing trousers,” said Wini Omer, a journalist and activist who is currently living in Britain.
Sudan is also one of the few countries that have not signed the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), a key global treaty aimed at ending gender violence. “Sudan’s ruling elite has a very outdated, conservative interpretation of Islam and enforce a very strict version of sharia which gives very harsh punishments, especially to women,” said Ahmed Elzobier, Sudan researcher for Amnesty International.
Theological Reflection and Recommendation
Sadly, patriarchal societies tend to be immersed in religious and political ideologies. The problem is not that gender roles are a social construct, as some might argue. Although to an extent, gender roles are culture-specific. The problem arises when gender roles lead to the advancement of one gender at the expense of the other. While the intensity of gender inequality varies from one culture to another, it remains a worldwide issue that is portrayed by the media. It is a recurrent motif, even in our Christian circles.
We firmly believe that God’s word is true – that it is alive and applicable at all times. Through it, we see that God made man and woman equal (See Gen. 1:27). We see that what God originally meant for both men and women is good. However, we live in a broken, sinful world where women have been used as a political tool throughout history. Even as Christ followers, we often forget that God’s love and purpose for women goes way beyond the fences of our finite, human minds. In the story of Mary and Martha, for instance, we see Jesus going against the stereotype that women belong in the kitchen and should have no access to theological teaching (See Luke 10:38-42).
If we as a Church are able to see that – If we are able to prayerfully heed God’s voice as communicated in His word, only then will we be able to speak out against the injustice and atrocities committed against women, not only in Sudan, but around the world.