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Pants, Bras, and Moods: A Culture of Fear

New Phase

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.

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Comments

julia sawi's picture

very nice

Very good and brave
i will be back and share some with you
good luck

Halima Mohamed Abdel rahman's picture

Please do!

Thank you so much dear Julia.. waiting for your rich comment.. Please do come back.

love,

Halima

busayo's picture

Welldone dear friend

Hi Halima,
Weldone, you have done a thorough job on this topic. Even though they might putting their life on the line
i want to agree with you that they need to fight this violence against them out. Women all over the world tmust give their supports to the women in Sudan and other countries where women are not free to choose their own dressing. This oppression must stop.
Once again i want to say welldone

Hugs
Busayo

Busayo Obisakin
Women inspiration Development center
Ile-Ife, Nigeria
busobisaki@yahoo.com
womeninspirationcenter@gmail.com
http://womeninspirationce.wix.com/widcng

Hi Busayo,

Million thanks for your support and enthusiasm to stop oppression. Unfortunately, two days ago two female engineers were sentenced to flogging and fine for wearing pants in public. The Public Order Law is always there and the POP still apprehend women and drag them to the court.The road is still long and the journey needs much support, solidarity and efforts.

Again appreciate your support. Thank you so much.

Love,

Halima

jap21's picture

Stubborn as a mule

Stubborn as a mule is how men are, dear Halima. My heart aches for domestic violence victims, and aches more when I read about how women are considered less than an old shoe in your society.

I know that not everyone will be this cold hearted, but for the time being, the social construction of women's dress is to cover the whole body. How to change it? Big challenge. One step forward would be making the girl children wear pants, if that isn't too risky.

I admire your brave heart to talk about a theme that can put you in the eye of the government. I also think it is about time that all women in your country look at themselves as valuable jewels, because that is what they are.

I feel honored to have met you, to have shared with you, and I pray that God will allow me to keep you as a friend. I have learned so much from you!

Hugs,

Jackie

Jacqueline Patiño FundActiva
Tarija - Bolivia
South America
www.jap21.wordpress.com

Halima Mohamed Abdel rahman's picture

Thousand mile journey!

Lovely sister Jacquie,

Still the journey is very long, but as saying goes: the thousand mile journey starts by one step. Women inside my country are fighting and no longer scary of social stigma. The two female engineers whose case is brought to the surface again, were the two females who had been arrested with journalist Lubna Hussein and refused to be whipped. their case was temporarily pended.Now the Public Order Law court summoned and judged them.

Million thanks for your encouragement and appreciation. Me too Jackquie, I have learned lots of things from you, your life struggle, persistence and commitment, etc.

Love and hugs,

Halima

JaniceW's picture

Compelling article

dearest Halima,
As a westerner, I have such little understanding of the issues here so am grateful that you are educating us on the conditions that surround the imposition of rules regarding dress. I have heard that some regard the Islamic dress codes as liberating as it draws the attention of the woman away from her physical attributes to her character. Likewise, others say that modesty is not created by the garments but by the woman herself.

When I hear such arguments, it seems to make sense but then I hear from you and numerous reputable news sources about the violence against women for "breaking" the dress codes, based on whether they are dressed "decently" or not. It seems that some of the rules are based on sound judgment but somehow along the way, the word of the Quran has been twisted to meet the desires of a few. Just as the Bible's teachings are sometimes twisted to support a person's individual viewpoint.

I am so appreciative that you continue to speak out on this issue so that we can gain a better understanding of the background to these dress codes, the history and the context. It is so easy for us in the West to make blanket statements about the oppression of dress codes but that does not help the women who are victims of these attacks. You however, give us the knowledge to make informed decisions and in so doing, help us spread awareness of the issue based on solid evidence and reasoning. I really love your closing statement "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."

New thinking and new concepts are needed and I thank you for leading the way in developing such. Best wishes,
Janice

Halima Mohamed Abdel rahman's picture

New thinking is needed.

Dearest Janice,

You are one of the women on the World Pulse who have contributed greatly in shaping my journey here. I am proud that I am here and so proud of your continuous support and encouragement that have guided me through this important journey that shaped my life and career.

I will come back again to your compelling argument and try to expose the different points it has raised. Just let me confirm one thing about the way Muslim women should be dressed as mentioned in Quran; MODEST. No head scarf. later i will give details. As you said new thinking is needed.

Million thanks.

Love,

Halima

kelsperry's picture

Quran on modesty, violence

Halima,
I really appreciate your straightforward and candid discussion in this article. We as sisters need to take a stand on these issues!

I recently wrote a paper that discusses various interpretations of the Quran regarding violence against women, modesty, etc. I would be really interested in your opinion-- if you're amenable, I'd love to send it to you, or I could post it in my journal! I feel your insight would be invaluable. I can only have so much insight, not being a member of your faith or living in your society.

In my faith we also promote modesty, which of course is a particular issue with women and girls. May you find hope in the fact that we have developed a healthy, wonderful attitude about modesty, which promotes both modesty in attitude and dress, while still maintaining dignity and the right to dress as you prefer. Modest dress in my mind is more about treating your body with respect, and not displaying it with the purpose of enticement, rather than specifics like a headscarf or a certain style of clothing, etc. A healthy attitude about modesty is attainable, feel assured!

Let me know what you think about reading my paper--
Much love and admiration,
Kelsey

Halima Mohamed Abdel rahman's picture

Very interesting!

Dear Kelsey,
First: I appologize for not immedidately responding to your important comment..Because I currently undergo difficult tough situations and have many responsibities to assume at the same time.

Second: thank you so much for your rich comment and wonderful proposal. I am very enthusiastic to read your paper about the issue of various interpretations of Quran regarding violence against women. So please don't hesitate to post it here and /or send it ot me. I am quite sure we will have long rich and hot discussions regarding this issue and other issues such as ways of dressing.

Love,

Halima

sunita.basnet's picture

POwerful article

Dear Halima,
what a powerful article. While reading your post especially, "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." my heart is crying over here. Bangladesh is also a muslim country and most of women were salwar kaamij rather than jeans. In our university there are students from Nepal, India, Bangladesh, Srilanks, Pakistan, Cambodia, Bhutan, Afghanistan, myanmar and the USA. Most of the students wear salwaar Kamij and go outside even they wear pants in the university and hostel. Sometimes when we wear pants, boys stared at us like they have found thier enemies after a long time. We feel uncomfortable but police they do not do anything.

I canunderstand how much women are suffering there. Keep writing I cannot wait to read your post.
Big hugs sister

With Love and Regards
Sunita Basnet

Dear Sunita,

It is painful that the situation in your country is similar to the situation in my mine. I don't know why men always arrogant and have the feelings that they are guardian of manners' and that women are the door through which sinful or shameful behaviors come.
I hope a new sun rises in our horizons and that our children enjoy a more healthy society in which women are treated on an equal footing with men. A society where a culture of humanity prevails .

Thank you so much for passing and sharing this comment.

Love,

Halima

Nusrat Ara's picture

Dear Halima, I read about

Dear Halima,

I read about those unfortunate Somali women. It left me really disturbed. It is sad and disugsting how people do weird things in the name of relogion/Islam. All women and resonable men need to put their act together and bring about a change. We are already late. let us waste no time further.

Regards

Nusrat

Halima Mohamed Abdel rahman's picture

Same coin

Dear Nusrat,

It is shameful that when Quran orders a good treatment to women and promised a huge compensation for treating them accordingly , politicians in the name of Islam, harass and oppress them.Somalis and Sudanese, on this issue, are two sides of same coin.

Love,

Halima

hhhhamada's picture

Bravo Halima!

Dear Halima,

You did it! This is a great culmination of all your hard work over the past month. You pulled it together very nicely and produced an excellent piece on fear and culture. Your bravery to speak out on such subjects is admirable. You are an amazing woman and a fine journalist and I know you will do well on whatever path you take from here. Congratulations.

Love,
Helen

Halima Mohamed Abdel rahman's picture

Don't know how to thank you

Dearest Helen,

I am speechless! I don't know how to thank you. All thanks and appreciation to the for your continued support and encouragement that helped me to overcome the difficulties I faced during this rich journey. Million thanks for your support, encouragement. !

Lots of love and hugs,

Halima

misscarly's picture

Dear Halima, I was so proud

Dear Halima,

I was so proud to read your final article, a testament to the hard work and determination that you have displayed throughout this journey. You truly have grown as a writer with a unique voice over these months, with a keen eye for tracking stories as they develop. It has been such a joy to work alongside you, talk over ideas, and see the final result. You should feel very proud of yourself and your accomplishments in this program! Your unwavering voice speaks about issues that the world needs to hear. Thank you for speaking out!

love,
carly

Halima Mohamed Abdel rahman's picture

Million Thanks

Dearest Carly,

I have all the honor to be one of those who are lucky to be guided and directed by you through this rich program. You are one of those great women who have marked my life, career and character. I am so , so happy to have read your comment which filled me with joy, happiness and proud. I don't know how to express my feelings or just that to be summarized in a word or words of thanks. My feelings are greater than to expressed in words... MILLION THANKS YA CARLY.

Lots of love and hugs,

Halima

Nadra Hassan's picture

be in touch

it is nice for me to know about you dear
and here is my interest to be in touch with you

pls be in touch

Halima Mohamed Abdel rahman's picture

done!

Done!

Aurore's picture

Amazing article

It is always amazing to see how religions can be twisted and used by people to assume differences based on gender. But your article is very well done about it and shows how it is important to stand up and claim NO religious purpose should prevent women to wear what they want. This thing about the muslim veil is becoming a totally messy question here in Europe, people on both sides think black and white and it is very difficult to give one's opinion without being called either a racist by one side or a laxist by the other side....I wish we could read much more articles like yours !!
Best for the future and for women in your country

miriam's picture

Compelling

Your article is really compelling. My heart aches for the injustices that the women in your country has been suffering. It takes more than courage to stand and speak out amidst everything that has been happening. Keep on inspiring your fellows.

- Miriam (hospitals)"

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