first published here
Women, in Sudan are considered adults once they hit puberty. Men, on the other hand, can still get away with heinous behavior no matter how old they are. In Sudan, for example, even when a girl is gang raped or sexually harassed, it is always her fault. The men, fully aware that they will not be held accountable, continue to violate women on a daily basis, because it is always “the woman’s fault.”
One of the horrific cases is of a 13-year-old Sudanese girl who was raped by a militia. She is being accused and charged with gross indecency, she tried to file for rape, but in order for the case to be processed she would have to bring four witnesses to verify her claim, which, of course, she couldn’t do. Her trial has been transferred from juvenile court to criminal court because she is considered to be an “adult woman”.
According to the Personal Status of Muslims Act of 1991, girls (or boys) can marry at the age of 10, and crimes related to sexual violence against girls mostly get prosecuted in adult criminal courts. There are claims that she had had an affair with her rapist, however untrue, in order to have the case transferred from adultery to gross indecency. Socially she is being accused with being immoral and seducing adult men. The general opinion is that she ruined her own future; nobody cares about how she feels or what she has been through as only she can be blamed for her rape. She has been stigmatized, worth nothing but her broken hymen. Now, it doesn’t matter if she attends school or attempts suicide, she brought it upon herself that 13-year-old “woman.”
Another daily occurrence in Sudan is of women being sexually harassed as they are going about their daily lives. If a woman is walking around in trousers, wearing a tight t-shirt and without a headscarf it can “annoy a man.” Men feel entitle to harass women and may even go so far as to file a case against a woman for wearing “indecent clothing.” On the other hand, if a woman wants to prove that she has been sexually harassed on public transportation, the police will refuse to file a case. If they do agree, then it is most likely that she has “connections”, however, she has to bring witnesses to the act, which is of course impossible, even though at times, harassers will beat a woman up if they are told to stop touching her.
A case that has received a bit more coverage is that of a young pregnant Ethiopian lady who was gang raped, and filmed, by seven men during the Muslim feast (Eid Al Fitr). Soon after the incident, she bumped into a police officer who took her to the police station but failed to file a case. Five months later, she got arrested when the video went viral on Whatsapp.
She is being accused of “practicing” prostitution and possessing indecent materials. While kept under police custody; the attorney general denied her the right to file the rape case as well as bail. He claimed that there is no provision in the law granting her access to the law on this; although there is no provision in the law denying her this right. Later the court refused to let her file her case because the investigation had already taken place on the basis of prostitution and possession of indecent materials. Furthermore, the prosecutor added charges of adultery and gross indecency before transferring the case to the court. Local media was relentless in blaming the Ethiopian “prostitute” who came to Sudan to spread immorality, HIV and destroy the future of Sudanese young men.
“They are just poor kids, she shouldn’t ruin their future and they deserve another chance to be good people. She is just an Ethiopian whore,” said a tea lady selling tea near the court. She cursed her and was also angry that there was a chance the men were going to be punished along with her for committing immoral acts. However, this same tea lady couldn’t say a word to the five police officers who got tea and coffee from her for free. If she were to ask them to pay, she may be charged with disturbing public order, and may be regarded as immoral and a whore herself. However, she was quite ready to be angry at other “immoral women.”
These stories are from the day-to-day lives of women in Sudan. Few make their way into the media. It’s easy for a man to rape a woman and get away with it, but rape survivors have no means to access justice. It’s easy for a man to drag a woman by her hand to the police station and claim that she disturbed public order but a woman has to know “important people” in order to file a case of gross indecency on public transportation against perpetrators. Not only that, in order to prove her case, she may as well ask the harasser to place his hand on her until she can find witnesses for the act. It’s always the woman’s fault.