Women's Empowerment and Leadership Development for Democratisation
We all remember the closure of Salmmah Women’s Center in Sudan in June 2014.
On 24th June, the director of Salmmah Women’s Resource Center, Ms. Fahima Hashim was presented with a decree from the Sudanese Ministry of Justice, ordering the cancellation of her NGO. A five-person committee came in to oversee the Company’s dissolution process. No reason was given for this decision, and the dissolution committee kept their identity undisclosed and prevented any visitors from staying in the premises.
This dissolution was a big blow to civil liberities, coming just as the dialogue on increasing women’s political participating was reaching new heights. Activists had noted the need to challenge the current status quo, and demand a change to current discriminatory laws—particualy laws on adultery, which promoited exploiting human rights and violence against women.
The Sudanese Criminal Act of 1991, particular Article 149, is the law in question here. This law, in conjunction with Article 145-146, states that
there shall be deemed to commit adultery: (a) any man who have sexual intercourse with a woman without there being a lawful bond between them; (b) every woman who permits a man to have sexual intercourse with her without being lawful bond between them; whoever, commits the offence of adultery shall be punished with (a) execution by stoning where the offender is married (muhsan), (b) 100 lashes where the offender is not married (non-muhsan).
The problem with this law is that it does not differentiate between adultery/fornication and rape. This would mean that if a woman reported rape, she may end up instead being convicted for adultery and/or fornication. Even after meeting the absurd prerequisite of four male witnesses to validate one woman’s claim, women have still been officially convicted.
Clearly, something needs to change. Which is why, in 2013, Salmmah, launched two projects: one to tackle forced marriage, and the other, death by stoning for the “crime” of adultery.
“Ending Child/Forced Marriage in AlFath” was, in collaboration with Azza Women’s Association, a project that aimed to launching a real reform process, through advocacy, capacity-building, and direct intervention. This reform process would ensure the enforcement of basic human rights by overcoming traditional and acquired constraints.
Azza Women’s Association is a non-profit working with women to provide income generation reaigin, midwifery training, and opporunities for girls who had dropped out of school. They have established women’s centres, one health centree, a vocational trainings center and CBOs to support the community. The project was help in Khartoum, in a locality where women are deprived of basic education and access to economic resouces, and have low level of skills required for eceonomic developemt. They are unaware of their rights, have no saw in decision-making, suffer from numerous health issues and are not fully equipped to take proper care of their children. Many have also undergone FGM, and forced/early marriage.
This project faced the challenege of an ill-equipped women’s center in AlFath, and needed a lot of maintencance. Additionally, the area had just undergone severe floods and had a lot of emergency repairwork happening around it. Also, their Imams, or religious leaders, were quite influential and had a strong grip over the common mentality that early marriage is good, and that all young ladies should be encouraged towards it. The baseline information initially collected showed that the capacities of women were much less than initially expected, and special considerations needed to be taken in the designing of the trainings, and an overall assesment showed the massive need for urgent reform of the community.
Trainings workshops, follow-ups, advocacy meetings, publications and materials were all part of the project strategy. However, as the government came down on Salmmah, the project too came to a halt.
The second project, titled “Adultery, the Unjust Laws”, aimed at re-examing the Sadanese Penal Code and brining about a reform. It was planned in collaboration with WLUML and Aid Center for Advocacy and Legal Consultation (ACAL). ACAL provides legal aid and protection to women convicted under the criminal code of 1991 and in prison.
The project aimed to analyze national strategies to bring a reform to adultery laws in Sudan, through a national campaign with legal organizations, women’s organizations, and human rights activists at the forefront. They would introduce laws that maintained women’s dignity and protect their rights.
Through its activities under the consortia programme WELDD, WLUML helped support activists pushing to reform the rape law. WELDD also supported representatives from Salmmah and ACAL, training them at workshops on political participation and on engaging with UN mechanisms, geared towards international advocacy on the rape law issue.
The expected outcomes of the project included a mobilized society and an increase awareness on Sudanese women’s legal status; the creation of a comprehensive research/report on initiatives to reform the law; the creation of women’s solidarity through a national campaign to advocate for law reform; and opening up a dialogue on women’s legal status, particularly among human and women’s rights and youth groups.
The target group for advocacy trainings was aimed to be women and youth—“key mobilizing agents”—actively working for a law reform among women and youth associations in Khartoum. The trainers would pick out the most progressive women intellectuals working within civil society, while ensuring a diversity in participants in terms of civil societies and independent activists already involved in the law reform initiatives. These key mobilizing agents would receive ongoing technical support (training, coaching, guidance and monitoring) through the project Co-ordinator at Salmmah. This increased capacity was an important hallmark of the project, and would continue throughout the project’s life.
However, again, due to Salmmah’s forced closure, the project couldn’t go past consultation stage. Because the NGO was no longer registered, and the remaining grant was seized by the government, Salmmah did not have the capacity for instituition builsing and adovacy that was originally planned.
There are the macro challenges to women advocating change. There is the continuing rise of Islamist fundamentalism, the patriarchal control over women’s mobility, the constraints over the enhancements of their lives. But when a government denies its women the ability to speak out, it’s a sign of something dangerous. Salmmah, before they embarked on their project, knew they were under threat because organizations working in the area of violence against women, attracting international attention to women’s/human rights in Sudan, are under a watchfuleye. When Salmmah was shut down, there was no good reason given, but it is obvious that it was due to Salmmah’s high profile work against the Penal code.
In an interview with Fahima Hashim, the director of Salmmah, she describes her organization as one whose “overall goal is to enhance social justice, gender equity, and women’s human rights in order to empower women and youth for social transformation.” It “envisions a just society in which Sudanese women and men share equal rights”, and is “an autonomous women’s resource center that empowers youth, women and men, in Sudan and in conflict areas, on policy advocacy, and on issues of human and women’s rights, violence against women, reproductive rights and sexuality including HIV/AIDS, poverty and conflict management, good governance, using feminism approach, gender equity through action research, publication, documentation, capacity building, networking, lobbying and advocacy.”
A useful, much-needed organization at a time when awareness-raising programs on rape and sexual violence are crucial and essential. This is a condemnable act. Women need to know their rights, men need to be sentisized. International organisations and members of the Sudanese women’s movement have been campaigning for change in the law that conflates rape with zina for over a decade.
There was, however, some headway in the initiative as the rape laws were changed in February 2015. This was, nevertheless, not as promising as it seemed; the amendments were reviewed by WLUML networkers at the forefront of women’s rights work in Sudan, including those involved in the struggle to change the Penal Code.
This review contextualizes the rape laws, documents the resistence to it, lists the pros and cons and goes into the implication. It’s a useful document that explores each angle of this law and holds it up to be examined in light. It can be viewed here.