Sudan repeals law that allowed police to flog or execute women caught dancing or wearing trousers

Selling goods on the streets and mixing with men who are not husbands or relatives was also banned

Maya Oppenheim
Women's Correspondent
Monday 02 December 2019 14:26 GMT
Abdalla Hamdok, the country’s transitional prime minister, applauded the decision
Abdalla Hamdok, the country’s transitional prime minister, applauded the decision

The Sudanese government has repealed controversial laws which gave police the powers to arrest or flog women caught dancing or wearing trousers.

A slew of public order laws which were used to control women’s conduct under the ex-president Omar al-Bashir have now been revoked.

Activities which were banned also included selling goods on the street, mixing with men who are not husbands or relatives, and leaving hair uncovered.

Wrongdoers faced arrest, flogging, fines, and in rare instances execution and stoning.

Abdalla Hamdok, the country’s transitional prime minister, applauded the decision on Twitter.

He said: “The abolition of the Public Order Law by the transitional government reminds me of the image of the brave young woman stepping on the back of a young man helping her climb the wall during one of the protests.

“That moment was a seal of victory and a sign of the wellness – of a nation whose young men and women help each other crossover the lines of fire and who shall not be defeated.

“This law is notorious for being used as a tool of exploitation, humiliation and violation of rights. Many have used this law for financial and psychological exploitation. Along the way, a lot of women and youth endured confiscation of their belongings and unforgettable harm. I pay tribute to the women and youth of my country who have endured the atrocities that resulted from the implementation of this law.”

Campaigners in the country have hailed the move which also saw the transitional government disband the former ruling party.

Bashir, who had been in power since 1989, has been in detention since he was overthrown in April in the wake of widespread nationwide demonstrations which were spearheaded by women.

Demonstrations started in Sudan last December over the cost of bread tripling, cashless ATMs and cutbacks to fuel subsidies, among other things.

Amnesty International heaped praise on the decision to repeal restrictive laws in the country, which is now being headed up by a joint military and civilian council, but urged the government to overhaul other laws which curtail women’s freedom.

Seif Magango, the human rights organisation’s deputy director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes, said: “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.

“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."

A 2017 report by Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa and the Redress Trust branded the recently revoked laws as a combination of legal and moral rules “designed to exclude and intimidate women from actively participating in public life”.

Ahmed Kaballo, a Sudanese commentator living in the UK, said: “These laws were a tool to repress women’s rights and freedoms - but they were often selectively applied to crush women's activism in Sudan by security forces that were encouraged to crush political activism by any means necessary.

“They were also used by patriarchs to humiliate and exploit women who stepped out of line. So it's definitely a step forward that policy is being reversed but the next step is addressing the attitudes that allowed the laws to come into fruition in the first place.”

A defiant image of a young Sudanese woman standing on the roof of a car fervently leading chants at an anti-government protest went viral around the world last spring.

The photo, which was taken in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum, rapidly became an emblem of resistance for Sudanese women in the country which has long been known for its systematic repression of women.

Alaa Salah, the 22-year-old woman in the photo, can be seen raising her arm as she leads the crowd in a chant and they repeat her words back to her.

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