State Violence against Women: A Current Prespective from the Sudan

Article excerpt

Azza Eltigani

Executive Director of Omdurman Centre for Women's Studies, and Secretary General of the Sudanese Women's Union Cairo, Egypt

Mohamed Khaled

Chairperson Omdurman Centre for Women's Studies Cairo, Egypt

The Omdurman Centre for Women's Studies is primarily concerned with Sudanese women's issues. It was established and registered in Cairo in 1994, but will move, hopefully, to resume activity in the Sudan whenever the current fundamentalist military regime is over and democratic reform occurs in the country. Omdurman is the historical national capital of the Sudan.

The major objective of the Centre's work is to support and meet the requirements of the Sudanese women's movement with an emphasis on women's emancipation, empowerment and enhancement of their status within and outside the family system. This support is being provided through research, training and various other activities. A qualified group of women and men with a high concern for gender issues constitute the centre's network of professionals in different fields. The group's expertise covers development, demography, reproductive health, sociology, law, psychology and environment.

Other areas of concern to the Omdurman Centre for Women's Studies include the impact of war on women, the status of women under Islamic law, violence against women, and consciousness-raising and sensitization on women's issues. The centre has organized and taken part in several conferences and workshops at regional and international levels. It has also gained the membership of Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) networks at both regional and international levels. The activities of the centre, as outlined in the plan of action, include: research; the dissemination of information; documentation; training; and networking with other organizations.

Violence against Sudanese women is one of the major concerns of the centre. In this regard, the centre is one of the founders and members of the Women's Court, the Permanent Arab Court to Resist Violence Against Women. The court was established in 1995 and is convened annually in Beirut, Lebanon. Azza Eltigani, the executive director of Omdurman Centre for Women's Studies, is also the Centre's representative to the court. On the issue of violence against Sudanese women, emphasis is being put on the political violence exercised against women by the state, through its different laws and regulations which reflect its fundamentalist ideology. In this sense, the centre's perspective may differ from other anti-violence groups in other countries whose concerns and priorities are dictated by the nature of their problems.

It is evident that the status of Sudanese women, in the family and society, directly relates to the level of democracy in the country. During democratic regimes women's rights have been more advanced, and these rights have been lost in the absence of democracy and under the military dictatorship. With the emergence of the Sudanese women's movement during the 1940s, women achieved considerable goals in their struggle for equality. Since 1989, however, Sudanese women have started to lose what they had achieved in the past. Under the current regime, all independent women's organizations have been banned and replaced by artificial pro-government organizations. In general, women have shared with men in the struggle for restoring democracy in the country, and have shouldered their share of the suffering as well.

A large number of women have been fired from their jobs in various professions because of their disharmony with the hard fundamentalist line of the government. Too many have also been subjected to detention, ill-treatment and torture for the same reasons. Whipping has been introduced by the state as a punishment, and women are specifically targeted for this harsh treatment. The current regime in Sudan has enacted many laws to undermine women's rights in the name of Islam, as is highlighted below. …