Panel 5

Negotiation, contestation, collaboration: Sudanese women under the State’s Civilizational Project

Panel organiser: Lamya Badri, Ahfad University for Women, Sudan and United Nation Population Fund, Sudan Country Office, Sudan

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This panel has a thematic focus on gender relations in contemporary Sudan. It deals with the (a) positioning of Sudanese women vis a vis formal and informal justice and governance institutions (b)  avenues for potential change and (c) the ways in which women negotiate, navigate and contest the prevailing gender order in the context of Sudan’s Civilizational Project.

One of the papers looks at the women of rural setting of Doka where the lives of women are governed in large measure by customary laws and traditional authorities. The Civilizational Project, which has encouraged women’s participation in Islamic education and activites, has provided a space for better understanding of religious rules that govern women’s lives on matters of family law. Coupled with better opportunities in education, paid labour and involvement with CSOs, this has led to a shift in the gender relations and provided women with more resources to reject verdicts that are not in their best interest. This shift has yet to change the structure of the court however, which remains male-only, and which women perceive as geared at family integration, not justice.

The second paper examines formal law reform processes and institutions in Sudan, and the extent to which they are effective in addressing the issue of violence against women. He identifies gaps in the current legal framework and proposes necessary reforms to bring laws and mechanisms in closer alignment with international human rights norms.

The third paper focuses on the women affiliated with the Sudanese Islamist Movement and its political arm, the National Congress Party. These women populate state institutions and affiliated civil society bodies in large numbers, and do much of the day to day work of the Project.  The paper discusses what the lives and work of the project’s “own women” tell us about its discourses, institutions and practices of the Project, and by extension those of the state. It draws on fieldwork conducted in 2015-2016 in Khartoum State and the predominantly agricultural state of Gezira, central Sudan.

Approved abstracts Panel 5

1. Delivering salvation: The women of the Islamist movement and discourses and practices of Sudan’s civilizational project

Author: Sara Abbas (Freie Universität Berlin, Germany)

The Sudanese Islamist Movement (SIM), which traces its lineage to the Muslim Brotherhood, came to power in coup d’état in 1989. More than a quarter of a century later, the Islamists remain in power, despite having gone through significant transformation in the interim. The “Inqaz” (Salvation) period as it is known, has seen the pursuit by the state of a highly contested “Civilizational Project”: a set of discourses and practices aimed at producing a “moral,” “modern,” Muslim subject, with particular emphasis on women’s subjectivities.

My paper focuses on the women affiliated with SIM and its political arm, the ruling National Congress Party (NCP). Allegiance to the NCP is a condition of membership in the SIM, an issue that at times gives rise to tensions not only between members but in the women’s own lives (and selves) as well. SIM’s women populate state institutions, party apparatus and affiliated civil society bodies, and do a significant share of the day to day work of the Project. Drawing on fieldwork conducted in 2016 primarily in the Wad Medani El-Kobra (Greater Wad Medani) locality of Gezira State in central Sudan, I examine the lives and work of SIM’s “own women,” and what they tell us about the discourses, institutions and practices of the Civilizational Project, and by extension those of the state. The highly gendered nature of the Project has not only contributed significantly to its longevity and success in weaving together state, party and movement, but has also produced significant changes in gender dynamics between men and women, though not always in line with stated goals.

2. With violence against women. The Sudan Personal Status Law for Muslims 1991 and its relationship with violence against women

Author: Fatima Abdelkarim (London School of Economics and Political Science, UK)

The right to equality and non-discrimination in the context of marriage and its dissolution under the Sudanese Personal Status Law For Muslims 1991 (SPSLFM), and its relationship with violence against women in Sudan, is the fundamental issue that this paper aims to investigate. In particular, I raise the question whether the provisions relating to marriage and its dissolution set out in Islamic personal status law discriminate against women. Through a sociolegal approach, I explore the construction of gendered power relations through the Sudanese law, and the implications of it in relation to violence against women in Sudan. This paper will therefore seek to tackle the following two, interrelated research questions: To what extent does the right to marriage and its dissolution, and divorce on grounds of ill-treatment in the SPSLFM:

• Contribute to the unequal configurations of power within the family?

• Protect women from male violence?

The paper argues that the unequal power relations between men and women and the vulnerability of women to male violence in the private and public spheres in Sudan cannot be separated from their rights to the conclusion of marriage, during marriage and the dissolution of marriage in the SPSLFM. More specifically, it will be shown that it is the dialectical relationship between these rights that renders the SPSLFM and the Sudanese legal system complicit in violence against women in the private sphere while at the same time playing a role in normalizing certain forms of violence against women in certain communities.

3. Reconciliation without justice: Traditional legal courts in Doka, East Sudan

Author: Lamya Badri (United Nation Population Fund, Sudan Country Office, Sudan and Ahfad University for Women, Sudan)

The article investigates the impact of Islamization on customary law through the Traditional Reconciliation Court in Doka Village in East Gallabat state in East Sudan. Customary law has historically had great impact on Sudanese women’s situation with regard to marriage, divorce, custody and maintenance. The Traditional Reconciliation Courts has relied on plural legal sources, including customary law, common law and Islamic law. My findings suggest that during Islamist rule, these courts were connected to the state system in order to control it. The tribal authorities have been marginalized. The formalization of the courts has affected its role in defusing conflict and protect women. Instead of being a dynamic court reflexive to changing local dynamics and needs, the courts have become static; its main aim has been to hinder family disintegration something which is a reflection of the state’s Islamic project emphasizing Muslim families as the foundation of the nation. At the same time, gender relations have changed in the area, partly because of new possibilities within education and partly because of International inventions. Based on two ethnographic fieldworks in Doka in 2012 and 2013, the article argues that there is a discrepancy between the courts’ decisions and women’s expectations and understanding of the courts’ role. Women have started to reject the courts’ verdicts. Despite the courts’ insistence on family integration even in cases of domestic violence and hardships within marriage, women decide to separate from their spouse despite the courts’ refusal to grant them a divorce.

4. Reforms on Sudanese criminal laws of the prosecution of violence against women (VAW) during armed conflicts

Author: Sami Abdel-Halim Saeed

This paper argues that despite the fact that the national criminal act of Sudan is prosecuting rape, sexual enslavement and other forms of Violence against Women (VAW), the national legal system of prosecuting VAW in the armed conflict context in Sudan is not fitting the contemporary international legal jurisprudence.

The definition of VAW has been developed somewhat in recent years. International legal instruments and best practices have developed so many conceptual principles on protecting women during the war times. The Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, as its title implies, the convention governs the treatment of civilians during times of war. In relevant part, it asserts that “women shall be especially protected against any attack on their honour, in particular against rape, enforced prostitution, or any form of indecent assault.” Thus, for the first time in international law rape was considered to be an international crime, though its parameters at this time were ill-defined. Other parts of International Humanitarian Law (IHL), and International Human Rights Law (IHRL), especially international criminal system of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Criminal Court (ICC) has broadened international protections of civilians of either gender, especially civilians of different ethnicities, from even unsystematic acts of depravity.

In the year of 2003, a new armed insurgent group, calling itself the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A) and composed mainly of members of Darfur ethnic groups emerged and attacked government targets. Furthermore, and after the secession of South Sudan in 2011, a new Sudan People Liberation Army/North insurgent group started military operation against the central government in South Kordofan and South Blue Nile. Abuses against women are an integral part of these armed conflicts and are too often neglected by all groups including the government. Rape and other forms of sexual violence are grave human rights violations; in the armed conflict in Sudan they are used primarily against women and girls. All parties to the conflict in Darfur are bound by the provisions of international humanitarian law (IHL) laid out in Common Article 3 to the Geneva Conventions, which applies ‘in the case of armed conflict not of an international character’

The Sudanese criminal system, including law enforce agencies and the judiciary, has not only failed in its duty to protect civilians against those violations as stated in the international law, it has also failed to enforce the existing domestic laws and bring to justice all those suspected to be responsible.

Sudan’s criminal laws, including and not limited to, Criminal Act, Criminal Procedures Act, the Policing System, the Judiciary, Imprisonments Institutes, Legal Aid agencies, are not actively protect women against all forms of violence and abuses in the armed conflict environment of Sudan. In order to close gaps in the Sudan legal conceptualization of VAW, the criminal legislations should observe the international principles of the IHL.

This paper is arguing that the existing criminal system of Sudan although it fully codified women as legally equal to men in the human community, but it did not unfairly single women out as a weaker gender in need of special protections, especially during the armed conflict times. The paper identifies gaps in the current legal framework and proposes necessary reforms to bring laws and mechanisms in closer alignment with international human rights norms to the extent which they are effective in addressing the issue of violence against women.

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