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Death by stoning: Sudanese law continues to oppress women

Death by stoning: Sudanese law continues to oppress women

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Life Women’s Rights Personal Freedoms Basic Rights

Saturday 7 January 202312:47 pm
إقرأ باللغة العربية:

من الولاية إلى الرجم... كيف يواصل القانون السوداني اضطهاد النساء؟

After a legal controversy that lasted for nearly half a year, a Sudanese court sentenced 20-year-old Maryam Tiyrab to six months in prison after converting her case from the crime of adultery outside the official institution of marriage, to "indecent, obscene acts", which according to the criminal law in the country means committing sexual acts with another person without being considered actual intercourse. This new sentencing came after her legal team appealed against a previous death sentence by stoning.

The stoning death sentence had been issued on June 26, but it was commuted following intense human rights pressure.

Maryam is not the first and will not be the last victim of the laws set by the legislators of the regime of deposed President Omar al-Bashir, based on their religious perceptions, as thousands of similar victims preceded her, such as the case of one Hawa Abdallah.

A brief reality of women's injustice

Hawa, 28, works as a tea and coffee vendor on a highway in the central Sudanese city of Hasaheisa. The young woman is afraid of her husband, who beats her if she refused to give him part of her daily income, after a court returned her to his ‘custody’ years ago.

Hawa tells Raseef22, “In our culture, a woman does not complain about her husband, and if I file a lawsuit against him, the judiciary will not do me justice, just like the first time. I prefer to give him what he wants in order to stay with my three children.”

This forced acquiescence is a result of the unfairness of the Personal Status Law in the country, thus begins lawyer Hajar Bakhit her interview with Raseef22. She continues, "The law sets conditions for women to have absolute obedience for the husband, as long as he pays her immediate dowry, that he be a guardian over her, and prepare a house for her, and if she refuses t0 obey him after that, the law considers her disobedient and forfeits the alimony he must pay her in the event of separation between them.”

She then says, "However, the more common interpretation here is that obedience is obligatory, especially in small towns and rural areas where litigation is usually conducted in accordance with a system of native administration that often tends to be conciliatory."

For her part, Lawyer Noon Kashkoush speaks of the common interpretations among law enforcement agencies and judges regarding Article 162 of the Code of Procedure, which allows a wife to file a lawsuit for divorce from her husband on the grounds of harm to her. She informs Raseef22, "The evaluation of the claim of harm is subject to the judge, and some judges retain the culture and thinking that a man has the right to beat his wife, while other judges believe that verbal abuse does not amount to a crime.”

A father has the right to marry off his 10-year-old daughter, which is why marriage among young and underage girls is quite widespread in Sudan

‘Legal injustices’ upon girls and women

Under the concept of guardianship, detailed in Section III of the Code of Personal Procedure, a woman cannot marry herself without the consent of the father, and if he refuses, she has the right to marry herself through the judiciary.

The father also has the right to marry his daughter from a young age, as young as 10 years, which means that underage marriage is allowed by law. Perhaps this is why marriage among young and underage girls is so widespread in Sudan.

The household survey conducted by the government in 2010 shows that 37.5 percent of women aged 20 to 49 were married before the age of 18, that is during childhood, while the results of the 2014 multiple indicator cluster survey indicate that 12 percent of women are married before the age of 15, and 38 percent before the age of 18.

The Ministry of Social Development comments on this matter, saying, “These rates are even higher for rural areas, less educated families, and poor families.” According to this law, a man has the right to unilaterally declare separation from his wife, while a woman is only entitled to separate by virtue of a court ruling based on the harm that Noon Kashkoush said was solely subject to the judge’s evaluation. As for inheritance, it is subject to the Islamic religion, which has granted women a lesser share than men.

Citizenship rights

Legal injustice against women is inseparable from criminal law, according to the Personal Status Law, which the Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA) says impedes equal citizenship rights, as women cannot document the births of their children, or their citizenship and death certificates.

The criminal law punishes female local alcohol makers, which are spread across almost all regions of Sudan, with up to one year in prison, due to banning alcohol consumption, as well as its manufacture and trade.

What legislators consider to be indecent acts, such as consensual indecent acts and sexual practices with a man or woman, are also punishable by one year in prison. It also imposes flogging penalties on women who wear clothing that disturbs public sentiment. And lawmakers have not clearly set definitions for this humiliating punishment over acts that fall under the category of personal freedom, but rather have left it to the discretion of police officers who can use the law as a means of incrimination.

Commenting on these laws, lawyer Noon Kashkoush says, "We women have fought many battles for decades, and we still have other battles ahead of us, as many laws contain problems, some of which are based on Sharia, while other problems are the publications of the Ministry of Interior." She points out that the injustice done to women has reached the point of law enforcement agencies being reluctant to accept women's assurances regarding suspects or accused persons, despite the absence of a legal provision that prevents this.

The military takeover has blocked reforms initiated by the transitional government by amending the provisions of some laws.

Demands that call for a new struggle

The military takeover, which the United Nations classifies as a military coup, on October 21, 2021, interrupted reforms initiated by the transitional government by amending the provisions of some laws, allowing women to take their children out of Sudan without the permission and consent of their husbands, and criminalizing female genital mutilation (FGM). However, these amendments, which were made in July 2020, did not satisfy the aspirations of women, so they continued their struggle, which reached its highest level in April 2021, when they organized major protests, after which they issued a "feminist statement" calling for the abolition of male guardianship, granting women the right to separation, equality in inheritance, and accepting their full testimony in criminal cases. It also demanded that they be given the right to name their children if the father is unknown, in addition to abolishing the criminal law and the Personal Status Law, as well as enacting new legislation criminalizing child marriage, forced marriage, domestic violence, and marital rape, ending with calls to sign the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). 

Three weeks after this, the Council of Ministers ratified the convention in preliminary terms with reservations to Articles 2 and 16 and the first paragraph of Article 29. And despite the reservations about vital articles that allow equality for men and women, the Legislative Council did not approve them at the time, perhaps to avoid criticism from those refusing to sign them, without forgetting that the legislation in that paragraph was conducted in a joint meeting between the Sovereignty Council of Sudan and the Council of Ministers, in accordance with the terms of the constitutional document. And so the struggle of Sudanese women continues.

This hostile legal environment, the non-criminalization of domestic violence, and the spread of a toxic culture of tolerance to harm — which mostly includes relatives mediating to resolve disputes amicably no matter how violent they may be — are perhaps what left 2.7 million women out of 22.5 million Sudanese in need of protection services from gender-based violence.

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Fighting for human rights

How is justice measured in society? Is it by our ability to express ourselves freely and live our lives with absolute freedom, protected from harm and unjust punishment?

Human rights across much of the Arab world remain precarious, and are often at the mercy of those in power. We at Raseef22 believe that by highlighting our rights, we can change the status quo. 

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