SUDAN: Report Expresses Concern for Women's Rights in the Two Sudans

Sunday, October 23, 2011
Sudan Tribune
Eastern Africa
S. Sudan
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Sexual and Gender-Based Violence
Reconstruction and Peacebuilding

A report published in conjunction with a human rights conference to be held in Gambia from 24 October to 7 November paints a bleak picture of the plight of women in North Sudan, reserving caveated optimism for South Sudan.

The report published by the Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA) network - a coalition of civil society organisations and women's groups - aims to give an overview of the human rights situation for women in the Horn of Africa.

It describes violence against, and repression of, women as a problem which has 'escalated across many Horn of Africa societies in recent years,' and that women are 'still bending their heads.'

The report lauds South Sudan's constitutional agreement to have a minimum of 25% female representation in government, an improved female literacy rate and the training given to police to deal with victims of gender-based violence.

However, concern is expressed over the reliance of 90% of South Sudanese women upon customary law which entails the use of customary courts, which predominantly based upon patriarchal systems.

The report also expresses concern that the dowry remains central to these traditions and as such, its recent inflation has resulted in bloody conflict.

Worryingly, SIHA quotes 'an official at the South Sudan justice department' as saying “My mother was beaten, last week my sister was beaten by her husband, what's wrong with that?”

Although this is indicative of an entrenched sexism, the report says that there is an opportunity for the international and regional human rights communities during 'these transitional times' to 'extend hands of support' to South Sudanese women.

SIHA recommends that the quasi-judicial human rights collective, Africa Commission, support the Government of South Sudan to address the sexual inequities.

Based upon the report's findings, the situation in North Sudan is significantly worse.

'The Sudanese regime is using South Sudan's recent independence as a front for removing citizenship for those it sees as being undesirable. These processes are specifically affecting poor women from conflict zones.'

It also claims that Sudan's laws and law enforcement 'have largely reflected institutional gender discrimination' which in turn 'has caused great suffering to Sudanese women and girls.'

The report is particularly critical of the Sudan Public Order Regime; a set of laws which makes women 'targets for the application of ill-defined moral standards which have been bestowed with legal characteristics' and the 'vaguely worded final penalty provision' of the Khartoum Public Order Law.

These have both been instrumental in the persecution of women, particularly Internally Displaced People, who are 'lashed and jailed for lengthy periods of time and often tortured and sexually harassed.'

The report suggests that the African Commission investigate the issue of the access to citizenship for Sudanese women. Since the succession of South Sudan in July, the ongoing conflicts in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile, citizenship has become an even more fraught topic.