صوت المرأة ثورة
Kandaka is the title used for queens in the ancient Kingdom of Kush. Kandaka, the word, translates to “strong woman” and in the ongoing Sudanese revolution, it has been revived to honour the strength and courage of woman protesters.
For over six months now (really for many years), Sudanese people inside and outside the country have been protesting for the fall of Omar Al-Bashir’s autocratic Keizan-regime. Originally misrepresented by the (infuriatingly small) media coverage, the uprisings were framed as a mere response to increasing bread and fuel prices. They are so much more than that: the Sudanese people are struggling against a regime that has no respect for the humanity of the peoples it supposedly represents.
They are fighting for freedom of speech, freedom of cultural expression, and basic human rights. They are protesting against skyrocketing inflation, an ongoing economic crisis, an epidemic of unemployment and corruption, the selling off of fertile lands to anyone who pays, governmental neglect and violent government militias waging civil wars in different corners of the country. Not least, they are fighting to end this embarrassment of a leadership that isolates and stigmatises us internationally as a country and as a people.
Reports have confirmed that amongst the protesters, at times more than 70% are female. ‘Naturally’, women hold a bigger stake in the struggles. By virtue of being born into a female body, women are disproportionally affected by oppressive regimes and systems. They suffer more from supposed Sharia laws and they are in the most dangerous and vulnerable positions when participating in protests. Nonetheless, Sudanese women are bravely demonstrating against all the aforementioned, plus gender discrimination and gender-based violence perpetuated by both the regime as well as ‘by their own men’.
Sudan’s Public Order Laws have been used since the 1980s to control and intimidate women by way of punishing them for “indecent acts” in public, such as wearing “obscene outfits” or “causing an annoyance to public feelings”. In 2014, I was stopped and harassed by Sudanese police men in Khartoum for not wearing a headscarf whilst sitting next to my cousin in a car. Not having a Sudanese passport is what let me get away. On other days, I would walk around in a t-shirt and talk to police men without any consequences. This vague legislation creates an uncertain atmosphere in which women can never know when they might be accused and/or arrested. They are at the mercy of an officer’s mood who may misuse this law however he likes. According to the No To Women Oppression group, between 40,000 and 50,000 women are arrested and flogged every year by public order police because of their clothing.
For further information on the Public Order Laws, here is a publication on the criminalisation of women in Sudan by the Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA) and The Redress Trust.
On top of government enforced discrimination and a lack of legal safety (there is no law against marital rape, as we were reminded through Noura’s case last year), women are also being disrespected and underestimated by the wider society. The Journalist Zeinab Mohammad Salih reports about the sexist gender roles that the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), the umbrella organisation that is organising the Sudanese Uprising, tried to assign to women. Namely, asking them to clean Khartoum’s streets because they allegedly “care more about the cleaning”. Women’s faces have been photoshopped onto pro-regime men in order to feminise, i.e. humiliate, them. This supposedly sends the message that ‘even women’ are out in the streets, so why aren’t you?
Apparently, ‘woman’ is synonymous with ‘coward’, even though women have been protesting in Sudan for decades. Women have been detained in prisons, they have both risked their lives and stayed back in homes to shelter and feed protesters, they have raised the men that are now proudly walking in the streets, they have lived through violence and rape as a weapon of war and intimidation. They have had their hair cut off and their headscarves ripped off by a government that obliges them to cover themselves in the first place.
Most importantly, they have not allowed anyone to silence them or push them into the sad stereotype of the oppressed Muslim woman. No. Sudanese women have forever fought by and for themselves and continue to do so.
For example, through the private all-women facebook group Minbar-Shat (“Extreme Love”) that was set up three years ago to identify cheating husbands and follow crushes. They are using it to identify members of the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS), the brutal forces that attack protesters and repress demonstrations. The members of Minbar-Shat share any information they can obtain about the NISS and post names, addresses and even phone numbers to expose and humiliate the people trying to sustain the current state.
This action is just an extension of a legacy of strong Sudanese women participating in and shaping public affairs: in 1946, ten years before independence, the country’s first female doctor Khalida Zahir protested against British rule and was consequently arrested and flogged. Similarly, Fatima Ahmed Ibrahim, the first Sudanese and African women in parliament, protested at the age of 14 when the British colonial government cancelled science classes for girls.
Women were important actors in Sudan’s previous two revolutions in 1964 and 1989. The video of Alaa Salah singing with the crowds in a white toub and big golden earrings serves as a reminder of female activists in the 60s, 70s and 80s. She is wearing the traditional Sudanese dress that represents professional women in cities as well as in rural areas.
To protest the silencing of women’s achievements throughout history and the continuous sidelining and belittling of their involvement, a group of Sudanese feminists have now launched a camp gain called Waqto wa naso (“The time has come”). They call for an end to sexist language, condescending attitudes and patriarchal hierarchies between citizens. It seems to be the never-ending task of non-white women to balance the fight against dictatorial leaders and the plight of patriarchal societies, to march on all fronts and remain strong (and graceful like Alaa) whilst having to anticipate discrimination from any man.
As the world is finally forced to acknowledge what they have successfully ignored in the past, and seeing the sudden rise of articles praising Sudanese women, I want to assert that just because you weren’t aware of us before, we are not suddenly rising now. Sudanese women have not recently been emancipated, they have not ‘found their voice’, they have ‘not woken up’.
They have been fighting, when nobody bothered listening to them as much as when now smartphones and twitter are providing more accessible platforms. Most of the Sudanese that are updating us about the Uprising are women, from Sara Elhassan to Yousra Elbagir to Nesrine Malik. It is women reporters that are engaging and educating the rest of us in the diaspora. Similarly, it is women artists like Enas Satir that visualising the revolution to keep everyone encouraged.
This revolution wouldn’t be if it wasn’t for women.
As a Sudanese woman in the diaspora, I look to Sudan in fear and pride, in hope and sadness and hope. After the Massacre on June 3rd, we struggle to to overcome fear and trauma whilst the people of Sudan have already resumed their peaceful protests in the streets. As we remain determined to reshape the country, we must not forget women’s contributions in that interesting masculine manner that tends to suffer from sudden amnesia whenever change has happened.
In our own contributions as a privileged diaspora, we must consider how we can help in the most ethical, effective manner possible. It is humbling to assess one’s place in these critical days, to not think about what we want to do, but what we are, in Yassmin Abdel-Magied’s words, best placed to do. There is an article that gives some ideas of how to help: here.
This also includes the Sudanese people in the country who need to assess their position in relation to those who have been most marginalised and terrorised by the regime. In other words: as women enjoying the wealth of the capital, we must not overlook the experiences of marginalised women and ensure that we create space to address the issues that are most neglected yet most urgent. In the spirit of Alaa Salah: “I wanted to get (on the car) and speak to the people against racism and tribalism in all its forms, which affects everyone across all walks of life […] I wanted to speak on behalf of the youth… I wanted to come out and say that Sudan is for all.”
This time, we will neither let war-criminals and big military men co-opt our goals and crush the revolution, nor will we allow entitled men to co-opt our narratives. We will do better for everyone, especially for those who are giving their lives to create a better future. Especially for those who continue protesting so that this revolution will be successful.
تسقط بس وتسقط تاني
Words by Amuna Wagner