Arrested and Beaten for Wearing Trousers: Stop the Public Flogging of Women in Sudan!

Three Sudanese women, one of them wearing trousers, walk on a main street in central Khartoum on September 8, 2009. The thousands of women who wear trousers every day all run the risk of a flogging if police decide their clothes are provocative. ASHRAF SHAZLY/AFP/Getty Images

Three Sudanese women, one of them wearing trousers, walk on a main street in central Khartoum on September 8, 2009. The thousands of women who wear trousers every day all run the risk of a flogging if police decide their clothes are provocative. ASHRAF SHAZLY/AFP/Getty Images

By Amal Habani, Winner of Amnesty International USA’s 2015 Ginetta Sagan Award

In July 2009 when my colleague was arrested and tried for wearing trousers in Khartoum, I could no longer stay silent.

Women and girls in Sudan are constantly confronted with obstacles imposed by the public order regime that hinder their freedom of movement, their freedom of association, and their ability to make personal choices on a daily basis.  As a Sudanese woman, I had always encountered these problems and as such, aspired to become a journalist to speak out for social change.

The public order regime in Sudan consists of laws and practices that allow the imposition of corporal punishment for what is seen as immoral behavior.  Notably, Sudan’s Criminal Penal Code of 1991, article 152, which was renamed and incorporated into the Society Safety Code (2009), calls for the punishment of people who perform in public, an “indecent act or an act contrary to public morals or wears an obscene outfit or contrary to public morals or causing an annoyance to public feelings.”[1]  Those who violate this law may be subject to flogging not exceeding forty lashes and/or fined. Because the standard for contradicting public morality is subjective and not defined, this article is frequently applied arbitrarily to the detriment of women and girls.

This system disproportionately affects women and girls due to deeply entrenched gender-based discrimination where women and girls can be stopped by police, sent before a judge, and sentenced to a public flogging for nothing more than wearing pants or leaving their hair uncovered.

There are also issues of due process including the right to a lawyer and a fair trial. Defendants in most cases are tried immediately or within a few days by public order courts which do not meet Sudanese or international fair trial standards.  Amnesty International has documented cases where defendants are lashed within hours of their arrest.

I estimate that 40,000 to 50,000 females in Khartoum alone are detained, tried, and punished each year under the public order regime.  Many are traumatized and afraid to speak out due to a fear of stigmatization.

Amnesty International and other international organizations, including the United Nations, have condemned the flogging of women, calling for the abolition of this punishment.  In accordance with international and domestic law, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and Sudan’s 2005 Interim Constitution, Sudan should put an end to flogging, as it constitutes cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment.

In response to the subjugation of my colleague and countless others, I co-founded the No to Oppressing Women Initiative (NOW) in 2009 to campaign against the Public Order Laws.  As part of NOW, I along with other activists submitted a memorandum to the Ministry of Justice calling to repeal these laws, and in response we were beaten and arrested by the police.  In July 2012, I was arrested again, detained for four days, and subjected to psychological torture while campaigning for the release of NOW women activists.

Women activists in Sudan are working fearlessly and tirelessly to advocate against flogging women for violations of the public order laws.  But this has not been enough.

No one should have to be afraid of being arrested and beaten for wearing pants in public.

Join me and other women activists and tell the government of Sudan to:

  • Repeal Article 152 of the Criminal Code 1991 because the article is vague and discriminatory, and fails to adhere to Sudan’s human rights obligations;
  • Remove the penalty of flogging for crimes against public order because it is cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment; and
  • Fulfill their obligations under human rights treaties, including Article 7 of the ICCPR, and Article 5 of the African Charter of Human and Peoples Rights

TAKE ACTION NOW!

[1] Sudan Criminal Penal Code of 1991, art. 152 “Obscene and Indecent Acts,” accessed 14 November 2014: <http://www.ecoi.net/file_upload/1329_1202725629_sb106-sud-criminalact1991.pdf>

(Contributions by Cindy Ko)

International Violence Against Women Act Reintroduced and Time is Ticking!

Violence devastates the lives of millions of women and girls worldwide every year (Photo Credit: Mahmud Khaled/AFP/Getty Images)

Violence devastates the lives of millions of women and girls worldwide every year (Photo Credit: Mahmud Khaled/AFP/Getty Images)

There’s little doubt that you’ve repeatedly heard about the incessant global epidemic of violence against women and girls; I am certain you’ve seen one too many horrific headlines highlighting unthinkable instances of gender-based violence around the world.

Like me, you’re also undoubtedly distressed by the violence and simultaneously weary of the struggle to end it. It is overwhelming and daunting to grasp how we can work to effectively end this widespread human rights abuse.

But we cannot give up on our efforts. With every day that passes, violence continues to devastate the lives of countless more women and girls in every part of the world. We must continue to push for a solution. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

No Woman, No Peace

mother and child refugees in Dadaab Kenya

© UNHCR/B. Heger

Just moments ago U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced a comprehensive new plan by the U.S. government to help protect women and girls in conflict zones and ensure that peace processes include women.

The new plan by the Administration is the first ever U.S. national action plan and Executive Order to implement United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security.   Often dubbed “the women’s resolution,” UNSC Resolution 1325 recognizes that significant action is needed to protect women and girls from armed conflict and include them in peace-building.  States have been asked to create a national action plan to specifically address the issue of women, peace and security.

SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

No More Rapes: End Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in Haiti

After she moved into a makeshift shelter in Dessalines Square, Champ-de-Mars, Haiti, “Suzie” and her friend were gang raped in front of their shelter.

 “After they left I didn’t do anything….I don’t know where there is a clinic offering medical treatment for victims of violence.” 

Because she was blindfolded, Suzie didn’t go to the police because she didn’t know who the men were that raped her.  She told Amnesty International that the police patrol the streets, but she’s never seen them inside the camp.

In the Haitian camps there are many women and girls like Suzie. It is therefore vitally important that both the international community and the Haitian government take immediate action to treat the issue of violence against women as a priority for the humanitarian and reconstruction effort in Haiti. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

New bill to end violence against women:"An act of compassion.."

I was honored to attend the event to mark the re-introduction of the International Violence Against Women Act (I-VAWA) on Thursday February 4th.  There was quite a turn out – politicians, activists and advocates all committed to ending the global scourge of violence against women and all gathered to celebrate the long awaited introduction of this landmark legislation. 

The bill  is a comprehensive response to this global human rights violation that places women’s rights at the center of United States foreign policy and supports programs which have been shown to reduce rates of violence – including education, health, legal reform, economic opportunity and public awareness raising programs.  A bipartisan team of sponsors from the House and the Senate were represented at the event and they were joined by two important  women who had first hand experience of confronting violence against women.  Humaira Shahid, an editor and legislator in Pakistan, was behind groundbreaking legislative reform to defend the rights of women in Pakistan, including a resolution to abolish acid attacks, amendment of criminal laws to increase protection of women from domestic violence and the Women’s Protection Act.  As Humaira put it during her speech “..women are the untapped reservoir we should invest in to bring real change…and I-VAWA is the way to do it” 

The other guest of honor was our very own Amnesty activist Irene Safi Turner.  Irene has worked on gender issues in Central Africa for almost a decade.  She made a moving speech on the value of I-VAWA to women like those affected by the conflcit and violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  “The legislation will bring a sense of hope and purpose for thousands of Congolese women victims of violence who are traumatized and stigmatized by their community” she said “The International Violence Against Women Act is an act of compassion and solidarity”.

(C) Alexandra Robinson. Sen. John Kerry, Rep Schakowsky and Humaira Shahid applaud Irene Safi Turner after she spoke at the IVAWA introduction event.

(C) Alexandra Robinson. Sen. John Kerry, Rep Schakowsky and Humaira Shahid applaud Irene Safi Turner after she spoke at the IVAWA introduction event.

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Parliamentarians Debate Women's Rights

© Jeronimus van Pelt; Former ‘Comfort Women’ lobby for parliamentary resolutions against violence in the Netherlands

© Jeronimus van Pelt; Former ‘Comfort Women’ lobby for parliamentary resolutions against violence in the Netherlands

The Inter-Parliamentary Union is bringing together members of parliament from around the world this week for a conference on “A Parliamentary Response to Violence Against Women”. During this conference, parliamentarians will discuss the role they can play in ending violence against women. The legislature can play a critical role in ending abuses and achieving rights for women, particularly by introducing laws that fulfill the “three ps” – prevent violence, protect survivors of violence and punish perpetrators of violence.

In our own United States Congress, there is a bill to end violence against women around the world, the International Violence Against Women Act. I hope that our Members of Congress will be inspired by the debates amongst their international parliamentary counterparts gathered in Geneva this week, and moved to support the International Violence Against Women Act. But, it is more likely that they will be inspired by their constituents in their own back yards. That’s where you come in.