Oslo Freedom Forum 2010 talk

lubna alhussein
Posted May 19, 2010 from Sudan

First of all, I'd like to thank the Oslo Freedom Forum's organizers for inviting me to attend this event and to speak on behalf of my sisters. My name is Lubna Ahmed Alhussein. I'm a journalist and an author from Sudan and you may have heard, ladies and gentlemen of my story that happened in the midst of last year. I was NOT the first, not even the ten thousandth woman arrested by the police for the type of clothes we wear. According to Sudan's Police chief, 43 thousand women, not in all of Sudan, but just in Khartoum and for only for the year 2008. imagine how big that has been in the the last 20 years. I was NOT the most brutalized, or repressed women as the forms of physical and psychological violence against women practiced either by individuals or by social groups or by the state against women in Sudan. I was the one who shouted the loudest so the rest of the world would hear us. I said NO in the name of the thousands of women who have lashed but whose cries were not heard.  Omar Bashir arrived to power in 1989 through a coup d'etat after Sudanese women have had access to education for 90 years. His regime's first goal was to impose an islamist doctrine that represses any aspects of freedom; women and their appearance were the first target.  However,as you can see, this Islamist doctrine isn't part of Sudanese traditions, until 1940, the custom was to prevent girls from covering herself up till she was married. This is by the way in Sudan's Muslim north, but in the non-muslim south sudan, this tradition continues till this day. So how many lashes did my grandmothr deserve?  The other aspect of women's oppression, Bashir's government fired in the last 20 years 350 thousand government employees most of whom were women. What was their crime? They didn't cover their heads in the way the government deemed appropriate so they were classified as enemies of the state. However, not all Sudan's women are state employee. There are women who farm their land, and who were expelled from Darfur. The only work they can find in the cities is selling tea in the streets. Even there, they are relentlessly pursued by the police with no legal mandate whatsoever. These women are the only breadwinners of their families, some are even nursing their babies as they work.  These women find themselves compelled to go to khartoum's outskirts for fear that policemen would break their teapots and cups, their only capital. But who will buy their tea in the impoverished khartoum shanti towns?  Most of you know that the Sudanese government used rape as a weapon of war in Darfur, but Shaima' isn't a Darfuri, she is a 1 year and seven months old, she was gang raped. By the way that rape's punishment is one month in prison. Any law that say to victims that just wouldn't be done unless they die during their ordeal isn't just as only in the case of a death then punishment would be deterrent as murderes are sentence to life in prison or even death. So, the punishment for committing rape is even less than the punishment for wearing pants. This is Shari'a according to General Bashir.  Here's another sample of the horrors visited on women: 91% of women in Northern Sudan face Female Genital mutilation. Despite the existance of a law on the book dating back to 1947 banning Female Genital Mutilation, this law was simply repelled in 1991. In 2005 government-controlled religious edict institute issued an edict saying that FGM is compatible with islamic law. This was their response to local Sudanese NGO's success in advocating against this practice so the government decided to undermine these NGO's by giving a religious justification to the practice of female genital mutilation. Yet, the struggle continued by NGO's as they managed to pass a law banning FGM only to be shut down onlu to be stomped by the government cabinet. So despite Sudan having the 4th highest women death during delivery in the world, the government chooses to focus its effort on enforcing article 152 under which I was put on trial for wearing trousers.  Sana' is 17 year old living in a town in central Sudan, married off forcibly by her father .When she refused to join her “husband” in 2008 so she could finish her university education, her husband gave her brother what he said was water blessed by the local cleric with Qura'nic verses, and ask him to spray it on Sana's face while she was asleep around morning prayer time. The brother discovered in horror that he sprayed his sister's face with acid. Sana' was subjected to most of the forms of violence Sudan's daughters are being subjected to: minors marriage, forcible marriage, being deprived of education and finally had her face burned. After legal proceedings were started against her husband as the perpetrator, San'a's father pardoned San'a's husband. This is not an isolated case, and is happening daily in Sudan to the point that there are newspapers that specialize in reporting this kind of crimes.  Silvia, born in 1993, is a christian from southern Sudan who was arrested under article 152 of Sudan's criminal code which gives police the power to deicded whether Silvia's clothes do “offend public sensibilities” as the article defines this crime. Silvia was wearing in broad daylight in khartoum a skirt a policeman deemd “too tight” and therefore illegal. She was taken to court immediately where she was sentenced to 50 lashes which is a punishment surpassing my own sentence by ten lashes. This punishment is discriminatory as it singles out women and is punished by special courts where defendants can't defend themselves or even contacting their families. These sentences are carried immediately after the conviction without providing defendants with any documents regarding the proceedings.  When I was arrested, there was a christian girl from the south in the group of women arrested with me. She was even younger than Silvia who was so afraid she wet herself. It was then I decided not to remain silent and to demand the abolition of these inhumane laws that the wealthy or well connected can escape. I rejected a presidential amnesty designed to quiet international media. My reponse was that the Christian girl was more entitled to that amnesty than me. My goal was to repel that unjust law punishing women with 40 lashes and a fine for wearing pants while it does nothing about female genital mutilation and children rapre.  On the day of my trial, droves of Sudanese turned out in front of the court and risked their safety to support me among them: tea sellers, university professors, students, and housewives and women from all walks of life were there. They did not come for my sake, I Lubna, but to demand their rights and to change this unjust law. These laws that are allegedly part of Islamic law are in reality the corrosive acid that is burning my sisters, the daughters of Sudan.

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