Pants, Bras, and Moods: A Culture of Fear
Three months ago, the Sudanese Women Gathering faced the government and called for rejecting all forms of politically backed injustice, exemplified by the raid of a Khartoum restaurant where 13 women were apprehended and flogged. This “call” has registered a new phase in the current struggle where denial of dividing society into decent and indecent according to outfits and implications came to the forefront.
As if in memorial of Nadia and others like her who suffered Kash-shat (police raids) during the previous 18 years, a number of tea sellers stood side by side with PhD holders, journalists, activists, lawyers and housewives and signed the petition prepared by the Women Initiative Against Violence (WIAV) and submitted it on July 27, to the Justice Ministry and Parliament with no great hope for change.
In one of the police raids, several months ago, Nadia Saboon, a 40 year-old tea seller, died when she was running during a kash-sha to save her tea equipment from confiscation. Her heart failed and she fell near a wall and passed away before reaching a hospital. Nadia was the breadwinner for her large family.
“I assure you that the National Council and the Justice Ministry may not lift a finger. But this petition remains the most dangerous document submitted to the Government under the current circumstances”, commented activist Omaima Mustafa when she saw the image of the 41 arrested women sitting on the bare floor of the prison.
Islamic Dress Code
The recent developments of flogging women for wearing pants in public have revealed the dimension of the tragedy the Sudanese women undergo. Whipping was practiced over the past twenty years and no woman dared to report flogging out of fear to be stigmatized as indecent. Under this rule, pants – whether lose or tight – are looked upon as sinful and a punishment of 40 lashes is equivalent to half the penalty for adultery in Islamic law punishment. According to the police directors' interview wiht Sharq alawsat Arabic daily newspaper, more than forty thousands women had been sentenced last year of indecently wearing outfits in public.
If the whole situation is about Islamic dress code, the Quran didn’t mention the Hijab (Islamic dress) or covering hair or rejecting pants. And when God mentioned women’s “dress” in the holy book for the first time, that was after the eighth year of Islam and has associated it with “submission” and that it is the good will that is inside the heart which is more important to God. (Verse 7:26).
Second, God orders women to cover their bosoms whenever they dress up. The word hijab of an Arabic origin is mentioned seven times in Quran but with no reference to covering the head. This is can be found in verse (24:31).
As it appears in the Quran, the Hijab has nothing to do with the Muslim Women dress code. It is an old pre-Jewish tradition that infiltrated into the fabricated hadith book like many innovations that contaminated Islam through alleged Hadith and Sunna.
The word Hijab itself can be used to refer to head cover worn by Muslim women. It can also be translated into veil, screen, covering, mantle, curtain, drapes, partition, division, and divider.
According to the islamw3d website, the first regulation of dress code for Muslim women is traceable in verse 7:26, the second is in 24:31 and the third is in 33:59 . God addressed the Messenger Mohamed (PBUH) saying:
"O prophet, tell your wives, your daughters, and the wives of the believers that they shall LENGTHEN their garments. Thus, they will be recognized and avoid being insulted. God is Forgiver, Most Merciful." In 33:59
God hasn’t specified the length of the dress. This may be left to people to determine the length that fits their country's weather, traditions and customs or their personal choice. The Islamic dress code is worn in different forms and under different names: the Thawb in Sudan, the Black Abaya (loose garment) in the Arab Gulf and Tudung in Asian countries. The common feature between them is that the women are dressed from head to toe.
But the dress codes have provoked an angry reaction among women and activists who rejected and accused the government of dividing them into decent and indecent.
"Dressing and appearance are personal issues. They have nothing to do with behavior", the WIAV petition argued, adding that the phenomenon runs counter to the Interim National Constitution (INC) which has affirmed that The cultural and social diversity of the Sudanese people shall be the foundation of national cohesion and shall not be used for causing division as well as regional and international human rights standards.
They also stated that supporting and facilitating women's safety, access to justice either through provision of training and education on the rights of women to law enforcement and other Sudan justice system mechanisms.
The Newspaper Girl
When the pants of Lubna Hussein, the female journalist who had been arrested with 12 other women three months ago by the POP in a Khartoum restaurant for wearing pants in public, were the center of the government's attention, women were raped in mass in Darfur of western Sudan. Reports said that children as young as eight are attacked by militiamen. According to women news, raped women in Darfur prefer not to talk about their ordeal, out of fear of retribution and in deference to cultural taboos surrounding sexual violence. Instead, as one woman told Amnesty International researchers, "They hide this shame in their hearts."
These women live in humiliation, punishment, control, rejection, and a limited chance of a stable family life. Young children who are the fruit of this atrocity are called living war memorabilia. Under the current conditions, talking about official concern of establishing rehabilitation centers for those traumatized women remains a matter of aspirations and hopes.
War atrocities pushed 2:5 million to migrate to other towns far from the areas that witnessed their sufferings. But a young girl stayed behind and gave a full account of life there.
Awatif Al Ishaag, a post graduate who is 28- years-old, was practicing citizen journalism for twelve years without knowing that she was assuming the most dangerous profession in one of the hottest areas of the world. Awatif Ishaaq stayed in her town in Al Fasher and for 12 years published her handwritten monthly dispatches called “Al Raheel” which means departure. In her journal she describes life in her town. But when she started to describe war and compare the disaster in the region to the situation of Lebanon, her stories drew the attention of the local authority and international attention. After war broke out and, for the past four years, Al Raheel has included items about the conflict in Darfur and how it broke into the city market.
From her cement-floored office, she described the suffering of displaced families and how gun battles moved into the markets of Al Fasher. Al Raheel appeared to be the only independent, locally-directed and managed newspaper that gave accounts differently and independently on events. Ms Ishaag dismissed the idea that she was doing anything unusual. Worth noting, a number of print press and websites, including Sudanese online website, called her the “newspaper girl”.
In an interview conducted with her by the “Washington Post”, Awatif denied that she was doing journalism.
"Journalism is a profession of risk," she said matter-of-factly, her voice echoing slightly in the nearly empty room. She also said, " I will get to the story fast,” she said. (She estimated that the daily number of her reader exceeded 100 people. They had a stop at the newspaper while they were on their way through the neighborhood.
While Awatif tried to go deep and report about violence from inside, Farida Shadeed, a Pakistani activist, gave account on the violence’s game analyses. In her study entitled: “Violence Against Women Legitimized by Arguments of “Culture” – Thoughts from a Pakistani Perspective”, Shadeed shed light on the political game accusing politicians of being actors trying silencing all dissenting voices, including other religious voices. She stated: “They do so by blackmailing people into silence by equating any dissent to their proposals with an opposition - even betrayal - of people’s religion and faith, and by crushing dissent through violence including against their own community.”
The apprehension of Lubna Hussein in a raid three months ago in a Khartoum restaurant, proved that the battle was not against trousers, because other ladies defied the government and went in public in pants. Yet, instead of a trial about pants, it is a trial of liberating ideas.
It must be taken into account the government allows females in the police force and army to wear pants. Allowed here, rejected there! For the first time Sudanese women are officially divided into two groups: those who are with and those who are against. Type one are the pro or decent women who are even allowed to wear the “sinful” pants, where as type two maybe sinful even if they are not wearing pants, but the full covering!
Since the Islamist hardliners came to power, they have the idea of reshaping the society. This implies minimizing women’s presence in public sectors and in the streets, imposing Islamic dress code, new curriculum, sweeping the public service from opponents and installing their loyalists. That was done under the slogan “Loyalty advances competence”.
This trend of extremism has made the country look ridiculous and dragged it into critical situation. Now I am ashamed to say that I am Sudanese. “All my colleagues at office laugh at the pants trial”, said Ahmed one of the migrant Sudanese in the Gulf.
Culture and Violence
“A worn out shoe equals better (in marriage) than a woman with a toddler”, “had a woman become an ax, she would have never hew”, “beat a woman by another woman(get another wife)” , take care of them(women) when they are nubile and menopause”, “Kill the insect before it hatches”, and “man is woman’s second god”, These are examples of sayings frequently repeated in the Sudanese environment devoting the inferiority of women based on gender. They are also are pointers of everyday’s living and interaction. A quick look at the situation of women gives a good indication of the roles, identity and status of women. The daily repetition of these proverbs indicates how the inequality is deep within the structure of the society.
It is regrettable that pioneering women had concentrated their demands on political equality. They reaped fruit of (1820-1940s) the resistance in 1964 by equal pay, parliamentary representation and access to higher positions and decision making. However, cultural aspect and the fight against outdated concepts of verbal and physical violence against women was a point of vulnerability and weakness.
Cultural injustice is ineradicable and women internalized themselves as part of this culture and natural process. Linked to the nature of a patriarchal society, they resigned and confined their activities to the domestic sphere and accept hegemony of family, husband and relatives. This may explain why Dr. Khalda Zahir, the first women to join the faculty of medicine in the 1940s and a famous pioneering activist called for adopting a new discourse that coincides with the current requirements and addresses different needs of a country's diversity. Worth noting, Sudan is a country where 150 tribes live and communicate through 500 language and dialects.
The early presence of women in the judiciary (1950s) doesn’t reflect in the current situation. The application of article 152 of the penal code for 1991 is a good example of that. After more than half a century of political equality, women are whipped when they allegedly dress indecently. The situation that stands against the country's National Interim Constitution that came in place after the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed in 2005.
When the POP raided the restaurant in July, they couldn’t exactly identify Lubna's outfits. “In the beginning the policeman was not certain whether I was wearing pants or a skirt, so he asked me to stand up. I did. He ordered me to take some steps or to move forward. After three or four steps he apprehended me”, Lubna told me over Skype. See my article posted at http://www.worldpulse.com/node/13121
Socially, women are also to blame for not changing the situation and left some outdated notions to circulate freely as through the grandmother institution. As a story teller, grandmothers devote deliberately or not masculine discriminatory sayings based on women’s inferiority vis-à-vis the supremacy of man. Additionally environmental factors, such as clashes over pasture and grazing play a role not only in nurturing violence, but in giving it a positive aspect of masculinity and maturity especially when a man directs this attitude towards his female relatives.
“How do we face this heritage enshrined against half of the community? And how can we build new concepts based on the recognition of women and their role as contributors to the movement of social change?” asked Dr. Ishraga Hamid, an activist and lecturer at a university in Austria. She added that is attributed to the absence or poor presentation of women in some important fields as legislation, which is dominated by males and become males’ prerogative. “A saying goes, the one who has the pencil will never ratify a law that contradicts his interests”, she commented.
Sanaa did. Sanaa Al Amen, an 18-year old country girl who opposed an arranged marriage and resisted for four months all her husband’s efforts to convince her sleep with him. Her stance cost her part of her face and right eye when her husband poured an acid liquid on her face while she was asleep. Sanaa is the first domestic violence victim reported who dared to speak out in public. She is currently treated in America, whereas her husband is still free because her parents have pardoned him. Sanaa didn’t only stir the society of her village, she gained worldwide attention and many Sudanese girls followed her example and were encouraged to recall their experiences of violence.
Sanaa’s story was covered in English, French, German, and Dutch through all media organs. It was also published on the pulse wire at the following Link: http://www.worldpulse.com/node/9147.
Pants and Bras
In fact, the matter is about more than pants. When the government came to power in 1989, it has a ready-made project for reshaping the Sudanese society. For this purpose, a new curriculum and military uniform have been imposed on students from primary up to high secondary schools. At the universities and upper institutions, women from the police department have been charged to monitor female students’ outfits and report whether or not they comply with the Islamic dress code in force since the1990s. Women are hoping inspection does not extend to lingerie as is the situation in Somali, when the Islamic hardliners whipped women this week for wearing bras. It is known that females in Somalia are strictly wearing Islamic dress.
For exiting the neck of the bottle, creation of new concepts parallel based on equality of humanity and produce and equality between genders is an essential. Encouraging woman to break the barrier of fear and reject all types of violence and oppression. This could be done through civic organization, media campaigns, raising women’s awareness and motivate them to devise new ways to address violence. At the same time provide training for local and traditional leaders to spread awareness to their respective communities. Urging the government to treat its people equally and to abandon the policy of favoritism and injustice of which she is a party.
This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future, which is providing rigorous web 2.0 and new media training for 31 emerging women leaders. We are speaking out for social change from some of the most forgotten corners of the world. Meet Us.