AP

In new Sudan, women want more freedom, bigger political role

Sep 19, 2019, 6:16 AM | Updated: 6:24 am
In this Sept. 4, 2019 photo, Sudanese activist Khalda Saber, poses for a photograph at her apartmen...
In this Sept. 4, 2019 photo, Sudanese activist Khalda Saber, poses for a photograph at her apartment, in Cairo, Egypt. Saber, a mother of two, was one of hundreds of thousands of Sudanese women who risked their lives leading protests that eventually pushed the military to overthrow al-Bashir in April. Under a joint military-civilian council in power now, they hope for more freedom and equality, and seek to overturn many of the restrictive Islamic laws from the previous era. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)
(AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

CAIRO (AP) — On her daily walks from home to her job at a primary school in the city of Port Sudan, Khalda Saber would urge people to join the protests against the three-decade rule of Sudan’s autocratic President Omar al-Bashir.

At school, she rallied fellow teachers to join the pro-democracy uprising.

“I was telling them that there is nothing to lose, compared with what we have already lost. I was telling them that we have to take to the streets, demonstrate and express our rejection to what’s happening,” she said.

One January morning, two months after the protests erupted, plainclothes security forces snatched Saber off a bus and took her to the feared security and intelligence agency’s local office.

Later, she was detained in a newly built wing in a prison in the capital, Khartoum, alongside other protesters. She said security forces beat her and the other new arrivals for several hours.

Saber spent 40 days in detention. She was among many thousands of Sudanese women who risked their lives leading protests that eventually pushed the military to overthrow al-Bashir in April.

Several turbulent months followed as the protesters feared the military would cling to power, before a power-sharing deal in July. An interim, civilian-led government was sworn in last month.

Amid high hopes for a new era, many Sudanese women like Saber are looking for greater freedoms and equality. They seek to overturn many of the restrictive laws based on Islamic jurisprudence, or Sharia, that activists say stifle women’s rights.

“For sure the whole Sudanese people have an interest in this revolution, but we, the women, had a bigger interest and motivation to make it happen,” Saber said.

Al-Bashir came to power in an Islamist-backed military coup in 1989, adopting a harsh interpretation of Islamic law that diminished the ability of women to participate meaningfully in public life, Human Rights Watch said in a 2015 report.

Public order laws imposed an Islamic dress code on women and restricted their ability to move freely or, if unmarried, with male colleagues, said Jehanne Henry, an associate Africa director at the New York-based rights group. Violators faced lashing in public and hefty fines.

But the end of al-Bashir’s rule would lead Saber, who worked with a local NGO on women’s rights issues for years, to flee the country. She spoke to The Associated Press from her home in self-imposed exile in the Egyptian capital, Cairo.

Along with her husband and two daughters, Saber escaped Sudan just two days after al-Bashir’s ouster on April 11.

She says the family was threatened, mainly by the Rapid Support Forces, a paramilitary group which grew out of the notorious Janjaweed militias that al-Bashir used in the conflict in Sudan’s Darfur region.

Saber had documented the RSF’s rights violations, especially against women, through testimonies before and during the uprising.

“There were threats that they would attack my daughters,” she said.

Following her release in March, she had immediately joined demonstrations at the main sit-in outside the military’s headquarters in Khartoum. “At this time, the threats were increased. I found no way but to leave (the country),” she said.

Saber’s story reflects a wave of violence against women during the protests. A Sudanese rights group, Sudanese Women Action, said in a report released earlier this month that women protesters faced an “unprecedented amount of violence and human rights violations” that amounted to “serious atrocities.” Twelve women and a 7-year-old girl were killed in the protests, it said.

The group said it documented at least 26 cases of rape as security forces broke up the protest camp outside the military headquarters in early June. Dozens more rape cases weren’t reported or documented “due to fears of reprisals or stigma,” the group alleged.

During the uprising, Saber said countless women in both rural and urban areas participated in the demonstrations.

“It was not strange to see so many women at the front in the marches,” she said. “This is because of growing awareness of women’s rights. Women in time realized they have to stick to their demands.”

After five months in Cairo, Saber remains wary. “Fear and dread still exist. It is too early to go back to Sudan,” she said.

Sudan’s democratic transition remains fragile. But the appointment of several women to the interim government — including Sudan’s first female foreign minister, and two women in an 11-member sovereign council — has raised hopes that the role women played in the uprising will lead to change.

Henry, the HRW associate director, said the new government is committed to several legal reforms, including changes needed to achieve gender equality. Family and inheritance laws “clearly discriminate against women, limiting their ability to inherit property equally,” she said.

Wifaq Gurashi, a women’s rights activist in Khartoum, said the government should prioritize annulling all laws that restrict women’s movement and freedoms, and implement policies that offer broader opportunities for women.

“With a little determination, we will be represented fairly,” said Gurashi, who was herself briefly detained during the uprising in February.

But, she said, women face formidable obstacles.

“It’s a long way (to go), especially to get rid of the traditional way of thinking in this masculine and authoritarian society,” Gurashi said.

In this Sept. 4, 2019 photo, Sudanese activist Khalda Saber, poses for a photograph at her apartment, in Cairo, Egypt. Saber, a mother of two, was one of hundreds of thousands of Sudanese women who risked their lives leading protests that eventually pushed the military to overthrow al-Bashir in April. Under a joint military-civilian council in power now, they hope for more freedom and equality, and seek to overturn many of the restrictive Islamic laws from the previous era. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty) FILE - In this June 19, 2019 file photo, a Sudanese protester chants slogans against the military council, in Khartoum. Sudan’s uprising has ushered in a new era both for the nation and for Sudanese women after three decades of autocratic rule by Omar al-Bashir. Sudanese women played a pivotal role in the protests that brought down al-Bashir, and under a joint military-civilian council in power now, they hope for more freedom and equality, and seek to overturn many of the restrictive Islamic laws from the previous era. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla, File) FILE - In this June 30, 2019 file photo, Sudanese protesters chant slogans as they march during a demonstration against the ruling military council, in Khartoum, Sudan. The sign in Arabic reads, "peace." Sudan’s uprising has ushered in a new era both for the nation and for Sudanese women after three decades of autocratic rule by Omar al-Bashir. Sudanese women played a pivotal role in the protests that brought down al-Bashir, and under a joint military-civilian council in power now, they hope for more freedom and equality, and seek to overturn many of the restrictive Islamic laws from the previous era. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla, File) FILE - In this June 3, 2019 file photo, a protester wearing a Sudanese flag flashes the victory sign in front of burning tires and debris, near Khartoum's army headquarters, in Khartoum, Sudan. Sudan’s uprising has ushered in a new era both for the nation and for Sudanese women after three decades of autocratic rule by Omar al-Bashir. Sudanese women played a pivotal role in the protests that brought down al-Bashir, and under a joint military-civilian council in power now, they hope for more freedom and equality, and seek to overturn many of the restrictive Islamic laws from the previous era. (AP Photo, File) FILE - In this April 12, 2019 file photo, demonstrators chant slogans during a protest in Khartoum. Sudan’s uprising has ushered in a new era both for the nation and for Sudanese women after three decades of autocratic rule by Omar al-Bashir. Sudanese women played a pivotal role in the protests that brought down al-Bashir, and under a joint military-civilian council in power now, they hope for more freedom and equality, and seek to overturn many of the restrictive Islamic laws from the previous era. (AP Photo, File)

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

Today’s Top Stories

AP

quit their jobs...
PAUL WISEMAN AP Economics Writer

US added a strong 517,000 jobs in January despite Fed hikes

The Fed is aiming to achieve a "soft landing" — a pullback in the economy that is enough to tame high inflation without triggering recession.
3 days ago
Thousands of fraudulent nursing diplomas  were dispersed in Florida. (Canva)...
Associated Press via Miami Herald

Fake nursing diploma scheme in Florida; 25 arrested

The defendants each face up to 20 years in prison.
4 days ago
Microsoft is cutting 10,000 workers, almost 5% of its workforce, in response to "macroeconomic cond...
MATT O'BRIEN, Associated Press

Job cuts in tech sector spread, Microsoft lays off 10,000

Microsoft said in a regulatory filing Wednesday that had just notified employees of the layoffs, some of which begin immediately.
19 days ago
exxon mobil sign pictured...
SETH BORENSTEIN and CATHY BUSSEWITZ Associated Press

Study: Exxon Mobil accurately predicted warming since 1970s

Exxon said its understanding of climate change evolved over the years and that critics are misunderstanding its earlier research.
25 days ago
FILE - Protesters, supporters of Brazil's former President Jair Bolsonaro, stand on the roof of the...
The Associated Press

Brazil and Jan. 6 in US: Parallel attacks, but not identical

RIO DE JANIERO, Brazil — Enraged protesters broke into government buildings that are the very symbol of their country’s democracy. Driven by conspiracy theories about their candidate’s loss in the last election, they smashed windows, sifted through the desks of lawmakers and trashed the highest offices in the land in a rampage that lasted hours […]
27 days ago
President Joe Biden pictured...
ZEKE MILLER AP White House Correspondent

DOJ reviewing potentially classified docs at Biden center

Special counsel to the president Richard Sauber said “a small number of documents with classified markings” were discovered at the offices of the Penn Biden Center.
28 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Banner with Cervical Cancer Awareness Realistic Ribbon...
Intermountain Health

Five Common Causes of Cervical Cancer – and What You Can Do to Lower Your Risk

January is National Cervical Cancer Awareness month and cancer experts at Intermountain Health are working to educate women about cervical cancer, the tests that can warn women about potential cancer, and the importance of vaccination.
Kid holding a cisco fish at winterfest...
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Get Ready for Fun at the 2023 Bear Lake Monster Winterfest

The Bear Lake Monster Winterfest is an annual weekend event jam-packed full of fun activities the whole family can enjoy. This year the event will be held from January 27-29 at the Utah Bear Lake State Park Marina and Sunrise Resort and Event Center in Garden City, Utah. 
happy friends with sparklers at christmas dinner...
Macey's

15 Easy Christmas Dinner Ideas

We’ve scoured the web for you and narrowed down a few of our favorite Christmas dinner ideas to make your planning easy. Choose from the dishes we’ve highlighted to plan your meal or start brainstorming your own meal plan a couple of weeks before to make sure you have time to shop and prepare.
Spicy Homemade Loaded Taters Tots...
Macey's

5 Game Day Snacks for the Whole Family (with recipes!)

Try these game day snacks to make watching football at home with your family feel like a special occasion. 
Happy joyful smiling casual satisfied woman learning and communicates in sign language online using...
Sorenson

The Best Tools for Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing Workplace Success

Here are some of the best resources to make your workplace work better for Deaf and hard-of-hearing employees.
Team supporters celebrating at a tailgate party...
Macey's

8 Delicious Tailgate Foods That Require Zero Prep Work

In a hurry? These 8 tailgate foods take zero prep work, so you can fuel up and get back to what matters most: getting hyped for your favorite
In new Sudan, women want more freedom, bigger political role