Sudan Repeals Morality Law Banning Women From Wearing Trousers, Drinking Alcohol
For 30 years, women in Sudan have been forbidden from wearing trousers or drinking alcohol under public order rules imposed by now-ousted president Omar al-Bashir. Inspired by conservative Sharia law, Sudanese institutions punished women who violated these rules in several ways — at worst, administering public floggings, and at best, imprisoning them or imposing fines. Now, in an attempt to restore dignity to the people of Sudan, especially after the nationwide silent protests that signaled the onset of democratic rule in the country, the morality laws have been repealed, to widespread acclaim from international human rights organizations.
“This is a big step forward for women’s rights in Sudan. The repeal of the public order laws was long overdue. Many women were arbitrarily arrested, beaten and deprived of their rights to freedom of association and expression under this discriminatory law,” Seif Magango, deputy director at Amnesty International for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes, said in a statement.
The repeal was orchestrated by the transitional government — a combination of military generals and pro-democracy activists — that replaced the 30-year authoritarian rule of Bashir after he made huge cuts to bread and fuel subsidies in 2018, which severely impacted the quality of life of the Sudanese people. Women, one of the groups most oppressed under Bashir’s regime, made up a loud and strong faction in the protest movement. One of these protesters, Alaa Salah, a Sudanese woman also dubbed the “Nubian Queen,” went viral on social media after she was photographed standing atop a car and leading protest chants. Unrest against Bashir’s government quickly consumed the nation, which ultimately led to Bashir’s ouster in April 2019.
“This law is notorious for being used as a tool of exploitation, humiliation & violation of rights,” Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok tweeted. “I pay tribute to the women and youth of my country who have endured the atrocities that resulted from the implementation of this law.”
The public order laws, as condemned by human rights organizations all across the globe, were not just limited to criminalizing women who wore trousers or drank alcohol; they were a “designed to exclude and intimidate women from actively participating in public life,” according to a 2017 report examining the criminalization of women in Sudan by the Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA) and The Redress Trust. “The public order regime is hinged on the control of women and the wider population through the discriminatory application of vague legislation,” which created an atmosphere of “fear, apprehension, and self-censorship as women are never aware of when or for what they might be arrested.”
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These reasons for which they’re arrested could include a woman talking to a man without permission from her family, or doing a job of which her family disapproved. The public order laws, which human rights activist Hala al-Karib told BBC gave to police the power to “literally hunt women,” also disproportionately affected poorer women and those from conflict zones, largely outside the capital of Khartoum.
“It is about time that all this corruption stops, that all this treatment for the women of Sudan stops,” Aisha Musa, one of two women on Sudan’s new Sovereign Council forming the transitional government, told the BBC, adding the repeal of the public order laws is simply the first step; the public order laws had also prohibited women’s access to education and health care, which the new government needs to address now.
Echoing the sentiment, Amnesty International’s Magango also demanded the Sudanese government keep the cycle of progress going: “The transitional government must now ensure that the entire oppressive public order regime is abolished. This includes repealing the articles dictating women’s dress code that are still in the criminal law, disbanding the public order police and the dedicated courts, and abolishing flogging as a form of punishment.”
But a complete overturn of social order — while absolutely essential to ensure women in Sudan can exist with dignity and freedom — will also take time. Activists within Sudan, well aware of the challenge ahead, have also reacted to this progressive move with a look to the future: “These laws were designed to intentionally oppress women. … Abolishing them means a step forward for the revolution in which masses of women have participated. It’s a very victorious moment for all of us, and I’m hoping to see more from our transitional government,” Yosra Fuad, a women’s rights activist from Khartoum, told The Guardian.