PRESS RELEASE: Public Order Laws in Sudan continue to be used to punish and control women

The report, ‘Criminalisation of Women in Sudan: A Need for Fundamental Reform’, shows how public order laws, designed to protect morality, continue to disproportionately target women, who can face long spells in jail and flogging for infractions such as wearing ‘trousers’

The Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA) and REDRESS have published today a report that relies on the personal experiences of Sudanese women caught up in the arbitrary application of Sudan’s public order laws.

Focusing on Khartoum state, the reports describes the experiences of some of the women most affected by the application of these laws, including alcohol brewers and sellers, human rights defenders, female students and migrant women.

The report concludes that Sudan’s public order laws, which have enforced strict moral codes since the introduction of Sharia laws in 1983, have been further extended and continue to be used in an arbitrary manner specifically oppressing women.

Women interviewed for the report described facing long spells in jail and punishments such as lashing for public order law infractions such as wearing trousers, which is considered an “indecent dress”.

The report recounts the experiences of these women within a flawed justice system, from the moment of their arrest and detention to their trial before public order courts and the imposition of sentences (which may include corporal punishment such as flogging) and imprisonment.

The report underscores that Sudan’s public order laws – which contain a mix of criminal and moral prohibitions which blur the distinction between the enactment of law for the public interest and the imposition of moral precepts based on religious convictions – effectively control women’s engagement in public life.

The report shows that Sudan’s public order laws entrench human rights violations in law and fail to comply with Sudan’s regional and international human rights obligations. The report calls on the Sudanese Government to repeal these laws.

Sudanese women are the mirror of the injustices and discriminatory nature of Sudan’s legal system. These laws as long as they continue to serve are affecting communities for generations to come by imposing the subordination of women in the mindset of the younger generation, and hence taking away any potential for the country to progress and to live in peace,” said Hala Alkarib,  Regional Director of SIHA Network.

The atmosphere created by these public order laws is one of fear and self-censorship as women are never aware of when or for what reason they might be arrested,” said Carla Ferstman, Director of REDRESS. “These laws are not about morality, but about perpetuating the control of the Sudanese Government over its citizens, particularly women. We call on Sudan to put an end to these unlawful and discriminatory laws.

For more information, please contact Eva Sanchis, REDRESS Head of communications (English, Spanish) on 020 7793 1777; 07857 110076 (out of hours) or eva@redress.org OR Martha Tukahirwa, SIHA NETWORK Communications Officer (English) on +256 759 286263; +256 790 213969 (out of hours) or martha@sihanet.org

 

COMMUNIQUE: Our heads are bent by the heavy burden

The Board, Staff and Advisory of SIHA Network at the recently-ended meeting in Entebbe, Uganda

The Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA) Network convened its annual board, staff and advisors meeting attended by 32 members from 8 different countries across the region on 16 – 18th November,  in Entebbe, Uganda.

Our debates and discussion underlined the new cycles of disparity evolving every day, which continue to implicate women, girls and communities across the region. Just last month, over 200 people were killed in the streets of Mogadishu as a result of a massive explosion of 2 trucks. Many women garbage collectors and street vendors were killed during the attack. Although activists and women’s rights defenders work tirelessly in addressing sexual violence against women and girls around the region, often under complex conditions, we have seen insignificant policy and legislation change to address sexual violence.

The Sexual Offense Bills are still awaiting parliamentary approval in Somaliland and in Somalia, for example, despite the escalation of sexual violence across the Somali region. Across Sudan, women victims of sexual violence still cannot report in hopes of retribution without being criminalized, stigmatized and re-victimized, particularly in the conflict region of Darfur. Sexual violence is becoming the norm in South Sudan, widely adopted as war and retaliation strategy by armed factions.

Women and girl migrants, IDP’s and refugees are among the most vulnerable groups, subjected to police, border guards, and militia brutality across the Horn of Africa. Women are persecuted for their gender and movements; from rural to urban areas, for fleeing poverty and attempting to earn a living and while crossing borders, running from war and unbearable living conditions.

It is beyond time for the regional actors to reclaim their responsibility within this chaotic situation and collaborate with, and not alienate and undermine their citizens.

We at SIHA continue to seek the solidarity of our friends and like-minded groups around the world. Our heads are bent by the heavy burden, but we must and will continue fighting for our dignity.

COMMUNIQUE: Our heads are bent by the heavy burden

 

The Board, Staff and Advisory of SIHA Network at the recently-ended meeting from 16th – 18th November, 2017 

The Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA) Network convened its annual board, staff and advisors meeting attended by 32 members from 8 different countries across the region on 16 – 18th November,  in Entebbe, Uganda.

Our debates and discussion underlined the new cycles of disparity evolving every day, which continue to implicate women, girls and communities across the region. Just last month, over 200 people were killed in the streets of Mogadishu as a result of a massive explosion of 2 trucks. Many women garbage collectors and street vendors were killed during the attack. Although activists and women’s rights defenders work tirelessly in addressing sexual violence against women and girls around the region, often under complex conditions, we have seen insignificant policy and legislation change to address sexual violence.

The Sexual Offense Bills are still awaiting parliamentary approval in Somaliland and in Somalia, for example, despite the escalation of sexual violence across the Somali region. Across Sudan, women victims of sexual violence still cannot report in hopes of retribution without being criminalized, stigmatized and re-victimized, particularly in the conflict region of Darfur. Sexual violence is becoming the norm in South Sudan, widely adopted as war and retaliation strategy by armed factions.

Women and girl migrants, IDP’s and refugees are among the most vulnerable groups, subjected to police, border guards, and militia brutality across the Horn of Africa. Women are persecuted for their gender and movements; from rural to urban areas, for fleeing poverty and attempting to earn a living and while crossing borders, running from war and unbearable living conditions.

It is beyond time for the regional actors to reclaim their responsibility within this chaotic situation and collaborate with, and not alienate and undermine their citizens.

We at SIHA continue to seek the solidarity of our friends and like-minded groups around the world. Our heads are bent by the heavy burden, but we must and will continue fighting for our dignity.

PUBLIC STATEMENT: REPORT OF STONING CASE IN SOMALIA – A MOTHER OF 8 STONED TO DEATH IN THE DISTRICT OF SAAKOW

7TH NOVEMBER, 2017

On the fateful afternoon of Friday 27th October, in the southern district of Saakow, Habiba Ali Isaq, a 30 year old mother of eight children, was stoned to death for alleged adultery against her husband, Ali Ibrahim. According to her husband, Isaq was living in Hagar village in Jubbar with her children when she left her marital home to Mogadishu to visit relatives. Ibrahim claimed that his wife then got married to another man in a different village named Nus Duniya after disappearing for 18 days.
On a relative’s witness account to SIHA’s staff member; he confirmed that Habiba’s marriage had a lot of friction over lack of support to the family – a mandatory role according to the Family law of the country and to Islamic teachings. However, after several failed attempts to change the situation, Habiba’s family decided to advise and proceed with divorce arrangements against her husband’s will and acceptance. Nevertheless, Alshabab took the case to their own court and sentenced her to stoning after the final verdict.

The stoning emphasizes the continued suffering of Somali civilians in the name of dubious and militant views of Islamic traditions,’ says Hala Alkarib, Regional Director of the Strategic Initiative for women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA). Hala continues, ‘But the risks lie in the normalization of such an act, which is why it is crucial and important for the Somali governments and religious leaders to counter and stand against the practice of stoning politically and ideologically. It is not tolerable or acceptable that, in the 21st century, a decision to stone a person to death is still being made in any part of the world and within Muslim societies, despite accumulated knowledge of Islamic heritage which clearly rejects this act”.

Stoning is becoming a broader trend in Somalia which SIHA regularly confronts. This inhumane act follows an earlier similar event that took place in late May, when a group of Al Shabab militia stoned a 44 year old man to death in the town of Rama Addey for alleged adultery. Dhayow was found guilty of impregnating a woman outside of marriage. In October 2014, the same Al Shabab militia stoned to death Safia Ahmed Jimale, a 33-year old mother who struggled with mental illness.
The brutality of stoning acts carried out against Somali citizens should not be viewed as a practice which select groups feel compelled to carry out because of their religious affiliations, but rather as a criminal act by cliques who wish to employ violence as a means of intimidation and population control, resorting to such violence.

About SIHA
The Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA) is a network of civil society organizations from Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Somali-land, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Uganda and Kenya. Established in 1995 by a coalition of women’s rights activists with the aim of strengthening the capacities of women’s rights organizations and addressing women’s subordination and violence against women and girls in the Horn of Africa, SIHA’s network is comprised of close to 90 member organizations. SIHA and its members envision girls and women in the Horn of Africa with the right to live in a peaceful, just environment and the ability to exercise their equal rights as human beings. SIHA’s work with adolescent girls aims to address their overall subordination and exposure to violence, while investing in their potential and reducing their vulnerabilities.

LAUNCH: Graduation Day – A snippet documentary dedicated to the Women and Girls in the Darfur Region, Sudan

Today, the Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA) launches a snippet documentary capturing its on-going work in North Darfur, Sudan and the provision of both literacy and sexual violence protection and response programs for those internally displaced.

SIHA has been engaged in skills-development programs for Darfuri IDP women and girls (in Al-Salam and Abu-Shouk camps in North Darfur) since 2013. Prior to this, SIHA has provided similar programming for women and girls in South Darfur since 2004.

Between 2014 and 2016, the program was accessed by 950 women and girls between the ages of 14 and 22. The aim of this initiative is to reduce the vulnerability of women and girls to all forms of violations, particularly sexual violence – to increase their access to further education and employment. The essence of the documentary is to spread awareness about the initiative, and bring to light the risks and protection mechanisms available to them.

For interview requests or images and case studies from SIHA Network, please contact martha@sihanet.org  / +256414286263

PRESS STATEMENT: Condemning insurgent acts of terrorism in the double truck bombings in Mogadishu, Somalia

Destruction of the Safari Hotel in Mogadishu, Somalia during the October 14th terror attacks (Photo Source)

Somalia’s long-running political unrest has continued to take a heavy toll on civilians, as warring partied and insurgent Islamic continue to hurt, kill and later, displace them in the country.  On Saturday 14th October, a deadly double truck bombing struck in Mogadishu – one of the deadliest attacks in the capital of Somalia, with a rising death toll of at least 300 and over 200 injured. There is no clear insinuation on which extremist group is responsible for the twin bombing attacks in the city, but the magnitude of the attack is most alarming since the 1990’s in the politically-fragile nation making it the single most deadly attack in the Horn of Africa nation.

With this unclaimed attack on civilians, including women and children, SIHA strongly condemns these brutal acts of violence on innocent individuals. This merciless brutality against humans destabilizes communities, violates human rights and threatens the well-being of the inhabitants. SIHA Network also recognizes that with a spontaneous increase in Somalia’s 1.1 million internally displaced people to many more, primarily women and children who remain extremely vulnerable, we are confident that these negative forces will be overcome and, wicked ideologies defeated.

SIHA calls on the Somali government to address the militarization of civilians, spreading militant militias, and stand firm against the spreading of religious militancy, gender-based violence, corruption while working to provide employment and training opportunities for youth males and females to end the situation of disparity and random violence.

SIHA remains committed to reproaching such acts of violence against minority, demographic groups recognizing the need for long-term persistent messaging to drive change in the region.

SIHA mourns the loss of our Somali family, friends and civilians; and we pray for recovery of those injured in the attacks.

Background

The Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA) is a network of civil society organizations from Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Somali-land, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Uganda, and Kenya. Established in 1995 by a coalition of women’s rights activists with the aim of strengthening the capacities of women’s rights organizations and addressing women’s subordination and violence against women and girls in the Horn of Africa, SIHA’s network is comprised of close to 90 member organizations. SIHA and its members envision girls and women in the Horn of Africa with the right to live in a peaceful, just environment and the ability to exercise their equal rights as human beings. SIHA’s work with adolescent girls aims to address their overall subordination and exposure to violence, while investing in their potential and reducing their vulnerabilities.


For interview requests or images and case studies from SIHA Network, please contact Martha Tukahirwa, Project Development and Communications Officer (
martha@sihanet.org) +256414286263

A prominent Sudan Women and Civil rights activist passed away

Khartoum , Sudan-August 14 2017

In the early hours of Saturday 12th August Fatima Ahmed Ibrahim, a renowned Sudanese leader of the feminist movement and fierce defender of women’s rights within the Horn of Africa region, passed away.

Fatima was born in 1933 in Omdurman, and was a staunch advocate for women’s rights in Sudan.  Her activism began in the late 1940’s, while Fatima was still a high school student, when she joined the nationalists movement in their struggle against the colonial regime at the time.

By the late 1940s she had joined a group of women activists and together they founded the Sudanese Women’s Union (SWU) where she had served as its president during a large portion of her political activism.  During her time as president of the union, the membership grew to over 1500 members. The union contained members from many different regions located across Sudan, including southern Sudan regions, Nuba Mountains and Darfur.

At the time SWU was considered one of the main actors fighting to reaffirm the rights of women in Sudan. Those rights included political participation, engaging in public spheres, and equal pay. Not only that but the union was  the first to publish one of the first feminist magazines of its kind in the continent called Sawt al-Marʾa (Woman’s voice). In 1965, Fatima became the first woman to be elected into parliament on behalf of the communist party which led the way for women to actively engage in decision making processes. In 1991, Fatima was elected President of the Women’s International Democratic Federation and she became the first African Muslim woman to hold this position leading to her receiving the UN award for Outstanding Achievements in the Field of Human Rights just two years later.

Although the climate for women in Sudan has deteriorated both politically and legally over the past 30 years, the accomplishments of Fatima Ahmed Ibrahim and her companions continue to assist in advancing the evolution of the women’s movement in Sudan. Sudanese women’s strength and capacity to keep battling a male-dominated regime continues to prevail and their desire for equality has never faded in spite of the complexities prevalent within their social and domestic environments while confronting poverty, armed conflicts and militant ideologies.

We as women’s rights activist in the East and Horn of Africa region will always remember and appreciate the legacy and contributions of those like Fatima Ibrahim who dedicated their lives to battling the oppression against women. It is extremely important for younger generations to recognize this contribution and continue the struggle for justice and equality for all.

The Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA)

Horn of Africa: there are no quick fixes in ‘countering violent extremism’

An effective response to violence and harmful ideologies is important. But projects are failing to adequately engage with root causes.

Since 9/11, western countries have increasingly invested in programmes to prevent transnational violent extremism. These include serious militarised measures but also “softer” civic interventions under the banner of ‘countering violent extremism’ (CVE). An example is funding social development programmes, implemented by civil society, with the aim of engaging and deterring individuals and communities from “radicalisation”.
An effective response to militant Islamist violence, threats, and underlying ideologies, is extremely important. But in the Horn of Africa, CVE programmes have failed to adequately engage with root causes of religious extremism.

In some cases they have failed so miserably that we must ask: to what extent are they actually genuine efforts to address violence and militancy? Are they merely superficial gestures? And how did such a complex issue become the additional burden of NGOs already struggling with layers of political and legal restrictions and limited capacity?

Displaced women in Somaliland. Photo: Hala Alkarib.“The flame only burns those who touch it” is a Sudanese saying that resonates today. Religious militancy is not a new phenomenon in the Horn of Africa. People have lived through this fire for the past 30 years. In Somalia, thousands have been killed as a result of the brutal Al Shabaab insurgency which has lured Muslim youth towards militancy by exploiting community vulnerabilities including poverty.

In this region, religious militancy often disguises itself as an ideology for resistance against state corruption, ethnic and cultural biases. Meanwhile, counter-terror programmes often ally themselves with the same corrupt regimes. The west considers Sudan, for instance, a collaborative partner – though it is itself an incubator of religious militancy as a result of repressive policies and laws.

Indeed, CVE programming has fallen far short of the mark – conceptually and in implementation. Even the language used is deeply problematic. Measures to prevent violent extremism is vague and ambiguous.

CVE programmes are clearly supposed to be ‘soft power’ projects in parallel to military counter-terror interventions. But: what exactly do they mean by “violent extremism”? Is extremism acceptable if it is not violent? At what measureable point does an ideology become ‘extreme’? What countermeasures are acceptable?

And: Are these projects specifically focused on Islamic religious militancy, or violence based on other religions and ideologies as well?

“Religious militancy often disguises itself as an ideology for resistance against state corruption, ethnic and cultural biases”.

These programmes have also been overly simplistic, largely ignoring driving factors of militancy and violence including injustices inflicted upon the region’s population. The – largely flawed – operating assumption is that providing grants to NGOs to undertake development-style programming will lead to a shift in communities’ social identities, or erase those inequalities and injustices.

Last year, the International Organisation for Migration launched a call for proposals on CVE stating that it intended to provide “small and quick impact support that capitalises on community driven interventions aimed at mitigating risk factors that contribute towards violent extremism. These will be preceded by interactive and participatory community consultations.”

But how can we think that transforming and influencing social and cultural identity can be accomplished through “small and quick impact support”?

Since the First World War, British and French colonial governments, and later the US government, helped cement political Islam and its organisations as buffers against Soviet Union’s expansion and to counter socialism’s influences in their quest for absolute control over Middle Eastern oil and gas.

Today states such as Saudi Arabia and Iran stress that Islam has only specific veiled versions, of which they are the vanguards. Supposedly, Muslims all over the world must be either Shia like in Iran or Sunni Salafi like in Saudi Arabia.

“The Islamic faith also has a rich heritage of reform and transformative discourse”.

But, like other religions Islam is very diverse. Peoples’ experiences with it vary based on their specific historical and cultural contexts and perceptions. The Islamic faith also has a rich heritage of reform and transformative discourse, which can be used to facilitate persuasive transition in communities using their own religious guidance.

The Horn of Africa – which includes Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, Somalia, Ethiopia and Djibouti – is close to the Arab Gulf region and thus it has been largely influenced by Salafi religious militancy ideology.

Here, the challenging religious context is further compounded by the complexity of social identity. Universal citizenship is not affirmed or applied by all states, to the disadvantage of minorities. Often, ethnic and religious affiliations also shape identity – as well as access to resources and services.

I recently heard the story of a donor-funded CVE project in the coastal areas of Kenya, which shows what’s at stake when NGOs, following donor agenda, forget that social and cultural change requires great effort, knowledge, and community ownership.

This project had proposed removing all references to jihad in the Qur’an in Islamic religion classes for “Madrassa” children – provoking anger and revolt from the local community over the presumption that it could intervene in matters of religious identity like this, amending and censoring materials.

“Pursuing social transformation requires focusing on, and investing in, civil movements from within”.

Years of experience challenging religious militancy and its impact on women has taught me that pursuing any form of social transformation requires focusing on, and investing in, civil movements from within. It is the role of people living in regions where militant Islam is rife to lead and decide on the best approach to countering it.

Trying to address injustices suffered under militant Islamists requires meticulous and tireless work – but it is one of the most effective approaches.

Women’s movements have also been negotiating and challenging discrimination within different sects of Islamic traditions, text and jurisprudence. Academic Amina Wadud has contributed to a feminist reading of Quranic text based on equality and justice which counter to traditional and militant readings. Addressing religious militancy’s impacts and drivers is also a core priority of the SIHA Horn of Africa women’s network.

This approach must be adopted by political parties too and be connected to wider struggles for democracy, freedom of belief, equality and justice. Unfortunately, most CVE programmes and other counter terrorism strategies can only be characterised as pursuing ‘quick-fixes’ and short-sighted and short-term gains.

Communities in the Horn of Africa must look inside rather than outside for solutions. Within civil society, we must tackle prohibitions and fear of debate and critical engagement with Islam. Internationally, we need a new agenda, centred on liberation, to support movements relevant to the communities most affected by violent extremism.
About the author

Hala Alkarib is the Director of the Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA), a Horn of Africa based women’s coalition. View this article on Open Democracy.

Gender Alert: Uganda, Tanzania shine at the Gender Justice Uncovered Awards

8 June 2017

Ugandan High Court decision won the People’s Choice Gavel at the 2017 Gender Justice Uncovered Awards hosted by Women’s Link Worldwide.  In 2012, a woman gave birth to two babies at Mulago Hospital, Uganda’s only referral hospital and was informed that one of the babies had died at birth. When asked to see the body, the hospital staff presented the couple with another baby that was not their child. The parents along with the Center for Health, Human Rights and Development (CEHURD) sued the Attorney General and the Executive Director of the hospital for the unlawful disappearance of their baby.

In January 2017, Justice Lydia Mugambe ruled on this case receiving the most votes for the best decision for advancing the rights of women and girls. She ruled that “a public hospital’s negligence resulting in the disappearance of a couple’s baby resulted in psychological torture for the parents and violated their rights to health and access to information.” The couple was provided with an immediate remedy of 85 million Uganda shillings.

“The court decision stood out because it recognized the need to not only address the human rights of the couple who were parties to the case, but also the failure on the part of the State of Uganda to fulfill its obligation of the right to health,” said Lydia Muthiani, Women’s Link attorney.

The Bronze Gavel was awarded to the High Court of Tanzania for its ruling that the Law of Marriages Act violated equality provisions of the Constitution as the minimum age to marry for men was set at 18 but 15 for girls. The High Court added that the Act violated the Maputo Protocol to which Tanzania is a signatory.

However, Kenyan High Court’s decision that found a man not guilty for carrying on a sexual relationship with a 14 year old girl received the Golden Bludgeon Award (the worst judicial decision of the year).

While the Uganda and Tanzania decision set a precedent for the right to health and elimination of child marriage, the Kenya High Court’s decision puts girls at risk of sexual exploitation and denies special protection provided to children under the age of 18.

Rape in South Sudan: A horrific crime happening on a daily basis


On Sunday 28 May at approximately 2PM, Anthony, a 22-year old woman and resident of Wau County, was raped by two men dressed in Sudan’s People Liberation Army (SPLA) uniform. Ms. Anthony was on her way home to see her seven month old baby – left in the care of her grandmother when she was confronted by the two men. She was forced to sit down and asked where she had come from and whether she had seen a boy wearing a white shirt. She told the men that she had not seen any boy and requested that they release her. However, the men then held at gunpoint, and forced to sit on a motorcycle and taken to a bush where she was beaten and raped. Abandoned by the perpetrators, Ms. Anthony suffered bleeding from the injuries sustained. A few hours later, she was found by firewood collectors who brought her to her home. The incident has been reported to SIHA offices in Wau town for referral and Ms. Anthony is presently awaiting medical assistance from the International Medical Corps.

A similar incident was reported on 15th March 2017, by SIHA in a statement titled “Rape at Gunpoint: A Daily Insecurity for a Woman in South Sudan”. Hence, SIHA remains deeply concerned about the increase in rape incidents and emphasizes the need to renew the fight against sexual violence in conflict areas.

SIHA acknowledges the government’s efforts in fighting sexual violence in conflict areas and recognizes that thirteen South Sudanese soldiers have gone on trial for raping foreign aid workers. However SIHA believes that continued efforts have to be made. As such;

SIHA calls upon the government of South Sudan, regional and international actors to address challenges of impunity through political actions, to put an end to sexual violence crimes and to strengthen the overall protection of civilians in the ongoing crisis in South Sudan.

SIHA calls for endorsement and enforcement of the South Sudan National Gender Policy of 2013 which recognizes rape as a crime against humanity. It criminalizes rape and all other forms of gender based violence and ensure that impunity through customary law is addressed.