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Abolition of public order law: Sudanese women’s ‘first victory’

A Sudanese woman holding a baby flashes the "V" for victory sign as protesters gather outside the military headquarters in the capital Khartoum demanding the instalment of civilian rule, on 27 May 2019. [ASHRAF SHAZLY / AFP/ Getty]
A Sudanese woman holding a baby flashes the "V" for victory sign as protesters gather outside the military headquarters in the capital Khartoum demanding the instalment of civilian rule, on 27 May 2019. [ASHRAF SHAZLY / AFP/ Getty]

Unlike previous years, Sudan’s women welcomed a “16 Days of Combating Violence Against Women” campaign as good news, after the country’s Sovereign Council and cabinet approved a bill ending the notorious public order and public morals law, which were like swords directed against women and were approved under the rule of ousted president, Omar Al-Bashir, to regulate women’s clothing and public morals by punishing violators with flogging.

On the occasion of the launch of the annual global campaign of combatting violence against women and girls, which started on 25 November and will continue until 10 December, Minister of Labour and Social Development Lena El-Sheikh, pledged to combat all forms of violence against women, to review or abolish existing laws and legislation restricting women’s freedom, to guarantee women’s basic legal and political rights and to provide them with security. El-Sheikh explained at a press conference that the Government of Sudan is striving to strengthen its capacity to combat all forms of violence against women and its manifestations. Indeed, the Sudanese Council of Ministers responded at its meeting held on 26 November, to women’s demands and abolished the law of public order and public morals in the centre and the governorates. The abolition came into force after a joint meeting between the Council of Ministers and the Sovereign Council, on Thursday evening.

The law of public order and public morals was introduced in the Khartoum governorate in the mid-1990s. It consists of seven chapters that imposed a set of prohibitions and penalties. However, it was especially applied to women, many of whom were prosecuted for their clothing. In this context, Nahid Jabrallah, human rights activist and director of Sima Centre for Training and Protection of Women and Children’s Rights, welcomed the approval of the bill abolishing the law of public order and public morals, considering it a “big victory for Sudanese women and their struggles in the past years.” She added to Al-Araby Al-Jadeed that “the great Sudanese uprising of December, in which Sudanese women played a significant role, paved the way for them to make lasting gains. The recent cabinet decision touches the essence of the Sudanese women’s concerns. I am hopeful that the government goes further with further amendments to laws that violate women’s rights, and aligns local laws with international laws.” She stressed on “the need to amend the personal status law, which permits underage marriage and does not criminalise female genital mutilation.”

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Sudanese local women, wearing traditional clothes, pose for a photo in Sennar, Sudan on September 12, 2018 [Özge Elif Kızıl/Anadolu Agency]

Amira Othman, activist and secretary general of the No to Women’s Oppression Initiative, talked about the differences between the current 16-day campaign during the revolution, and the previous year’s campaign under ousted president, Al-Bashir. “Women are still under the burden of laws that restrict their freedom, but the revolutionary atmosphere allows for the provision of good actions to serve women’s issues, especially the raising of awareness with the submission of notes and claims in order to acquire the rights that ensure that they are not exposed to violence,” added Othman to Al-Araby Al-Jadeed. She described the abolition of the law of public order and public morals as “a good, yet incomplete, step,” explaining that “it did not include the notorious articles, on which the criminal code was based.” Othman continued that “right before the abolition, the Sudanese people have broken many taboos that impose rules of public behaviour by force of law,” pointing out that “people ignored provisions such as the prohibition of mixed dancing, leaving of the first ten seats in public vehicles for women and the closure of shops in prayer times, etc.”

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For many concerned people, violence against women in Sudan is not only the responsibility of the adopted laws in the country or the state, but also the result of the accumulation of customs, traditions and social cultures, in addition to the oblivion of women themselves about their rights and duties that are clearly defined in the constitution and laws. Journalist, Iman Kamaluddin, expressed her hopes that the 16-day campaign would lead to “more positive results for women in terms of stopping gender-based violence.” She confirmed to Al-Araby Al-Jadeed that “the suffering of women in Sudanese society does not date back to the rule of the former regime, but to a much earlier time, amid the absence of awareness, which should be raised along with drawing the society’s attention to women’s sufferings and improving men’s look towards them,” emphasising that “the concept of violence against women needs to be clearly defined.” Kamaluddin expects that “the abolition of the law of public order and public morals, as well as the calls for the signing of The Committee on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and other international laws, will lead to a collision with society,” highlighting that “what the former regime has left is heavy, which makes the move forward with these demands useless in reality. Nonetheless, what has happened is a step forward on the way.”

Legal activist, Maazul Hazrat, told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed that it is “normal for Sudanese women to find their place after the great revolution,” stressing on “the need for laws’ compliance with human rights principles.” He explained that “after the abolition of the law of public order and public morals by the Sovereign Council and the Council of Ministers, the Sudanese women have achieved their first victory, which requires the abolition of more laws that allow violence against women.”

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