Women of Sudan transform the paradigm

A protester flashes the victory sign while holding her child in a street leading to the sit-in outside the Sudanese military headquarters, in Khartoum, Sudan, Tuesday, May 14, 2019. Sudanese protesters say security agents loyal to ousted President Omar al-Bashir attacked their sit-ins overnight, setting off clashes that left six people dead, including an army officer, and heightened tensions as the opposition holds talks with the ruling military council. Both the protesters and the transitional military council say the violence was instigated by al-Bashir loyalists from within the security forces. (AP Photo)

The leading figure in Sudan’s military council today – the notorious Himeidti – is the very same man who formed and led the Janjaweed militias accused of genocide and war crimes in Darfur 16 years ago. The Janjaweed, which was the brainchild of deposed President Omar al Bashir, had implemented a scorched earth policy in Darfur, committing mass rapes and massacring civilians, burning entire villages to the ground. It was an era of unspeakable atrocities which took the lives of over 300,000 civilians and displaced 2.7 million Darfuris from their homes. Up to today there is yet to be any accountability for these crimes despite the ICC arrest warrant for Bashir.

The very fact that Himeidti, the man who spearheaded this campaign of death and destruction, is a key figure in the military council which is vacillating on giving over power to the civilian opposition alliance is atrocious. He has also presided over the current Rapid Support force and paramilitaries which have attempted to strike fear into the hearts of the protesters through torture, rape and brutality, but utterly failed.

Sudan will never be the same again, as its people have awoken to the reality that they have been fed a lie by a self-serving and corrupt government. Women, who make up half the population, have been living under severe oppression all in the name of religion, and now that they have tasted freedom there is simply no going back.

The encampment of thousands of protesters that has maintained their sit-in outside military headquarters for over six weeks has become a new paradigm for Sudan – a glimpse into what the future will look like. For years women have been flogged by the state for wearing pants, for leaving their homes at night without their husbands or a male chaperone, and for violating the ban on alcohol. In 2016 there were 15,000 women sentenced to flogging. The state justified its abuse of women’s rights under the guise of Sharia law. Even the rights of girl children were taken away from them, and girls as young as nine could be forced into marriage if their male guardians allowed it. Female genital mutilation had become the norm.

But the face of the new Sudan lies behind the barricades of the mass sit-in. Women wear pants, expose their hair, come and go as they please, listen to music, and some even indulge in an alcoholic drink.

The cost for such civil disobedience? Ever since the protests began in late December, women became targets of the regime. Countless women have been detained in what is notoriously called ‘refrigerators’ which are windowless 3×4 meter cells kept unbearably cold. In communal cells women are forced to sleep two to a single mattress.

Women have found their voice and will continue the resistance until civilian rule is restored. Never again will they allow themselves to be controlled by an abusive patriarchal system that kept them subservient to their male counterparts. The extent of the repression against women is what led to an explosion of resistance to Bashir’s dictatorial rule. Women have led many of the demonstrations across the country and sustained the momentum.

What has been truly inspirational about this resistance movement is the absolute discipline of the people. No major security incident has been reported on the side of the demonstrators, and checkpoints into the encampment have prevented any weapons from being brought in. Food has been distributed by volunteers from tents where the food is cooked in giant pots on open fires.

The prevailing theme is tolerance of difference. During Friday prayers young Coptic Christians have been seen carrying large plastic sheets as a giant umbrella to shield their Muslim compatriots from the sun while they pray. In a country where the regime was notorious for persecuting Christians as heretics, this is indeed a monumental sea change in how ordinary Sudanese people relate to each other.


 Shannon Ebrahim is the Foreign Editor for the Independent Media Group.