Sudan has Criminalized carrying out Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), making it punishable by three years in jail.
According to UN, about 87% of Sudanese women aged between 14 and 49 have undergone some form of FGM. In Sudan it is not uncommon for women to get the inner and outer labia, and usually the clitoris, removed and FGM can result in urinary tract infections, uterine infections, kidney infections, cysts, reproductive issues and pain during sex.
Before now, there has been a global trend towards banning the practice. However, according to a Unicef report carried out in 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East, the practice is still being widely carried out, despite the fact that at least 24 of these countries have legislation or some form of decrees against FGM. FGM was already illegal in some Sudanese states but these bans were widely ignored.
BBC Sudan analyst Mohaned Hashim notes that there have been previous attempts to ban FGM across the whole country but parliament under long-time leader Omar al-Bashir rejected the recommendations. Women were at the forefront of the movement that toppled Mr Bashir in April 2019. Campaigners accused the former government of discriminating against women in various ways – including preventing women from wearing trousers.
In November, Sudan repealed a restrictive public order law that controlled how women acted and dressed in public. The FGM amendment to the criminal law was approved on 22 April, Reuters news agency reports and under the amendment, anyone who performs FGM either inside a medical establishment or elsewhere faces three years’ imprisonment and a fine.
Sudan’s first ever women’s club football league kicked off Monday, with two teams clashing at a Khartoum stadium as crowds of fans and diplomats cheered.
The championship, which involves 21 clubs, would have seemed unlikely just months ago when long time Islamist ruler Omar al-Bashir was in power.
The first club match was played between Tahadi and Difaain in the capital on Monday. Matches are also scheduled for Madani, Al-Obeid and Kadugli.
“Civilian rule, Civilian rule,” chanted the crowd as the first match between the two teams began.
Crowds clapped and whistled, with many also chanting “Kandaka, Kandaka,” referring to ancient Nubian queens.
The match was attended by Sudan’s new Minister of Sport Wala Essam and some Sudanese and foreign diplomats.
“This is a historical game not only for women’s sport but for Sudan,” Essam told reporters.
“We will give special attention to women’s sport and women’s football.”
The start of the women’s club football league comes amid expectations that the current three-year transition period will see liberal policies implemented across the country, including measures to promote freedom of speech, women’s rights, sport and arts.
Sudan joined FIFA in 1948. In 1957, Sudan co-founded the Confederation of African Football with Egypt, Ethiopia and South Africa at a meeting in Khartoum.
But women’s football has faced an uphill fight since the country adopted Islamic sharia law in 1983, six years before Bashir seized power in an Islamist-backed coup.
Bashir was ousted by the army in a palace coup on April 11 on the back of nationwide protests against his iron-fisted rule.
A new joint civilian-military ruling body, called the sovereign council, is governing of the country for a transition period of 39 months.
The 11-member council has six civilians including two women.
Mobile internet services were restored across Sudan on Tuesday following a court order, weeks after the ruling generals imposed a blockade in the wake of a brutal crackdown on protesters.
Demonstrators were violently dispersed on June 3 by men in military fatigues, who stormed a weeks-long protest camp outside army headquarters in Khartoum where Sudanese had camped to demand that the generals step down.
Armed men, shooting and beating protesters in a pre-dawn raid, killed dozens of demonstrators and wounded hundreds.
Days later internet on mobile phones and fixed land connections was cut across Sudan, with users saying it was done to prevent further mobilisation of protesters.
Khartoum-based lawyer Abdelazim al-Hassan filed a case against the blockade, urging a court in the capital to order telecom company Zain to restore the internet services on his own mobile phone.
Days later internet on fixed land connections was restored, but the mobile 3G and 4G services remained cut.
“I returned to court and said that numerous clients of Zain and other telecom companies were impacted due to the cut,” Hasan told a news conference on Tuesday.
“Today, the court issued an order to Zain and to MTN and Sudani to restore their mobile internet services,” referring to three telecom companies.
Later on Tuesday the internet services on MTN and Sudani networks were restored, but not on Zain, users said.
Several subscribers of MTN and Sudani contacted by AFP confirmed they were able to make voice and video calls through social media networks like the WhatsApp messaging platform.
Protesters and rights group say the internet blockade was an attempt to quell protests against the generals, who had seized power after the army ousted longtime ruler Omar al-Bashir in April following nationwide protests against his rule.
For the generals the internet and social media had become a threat as protesters used online social media apps to mobilise tens of thousands of demonstrators.
The generals and protesters last week reached a deal to form a joint civilian-military ruling body, which would install a new government and parliament for a transitional period of little over three years.
The agreement between the two sides is expected to be formally signed in the next few days.
Late last week, Sudanese beauty influencer Shahd Khidir (@hadyouatsalaam) took to her Instagram feed to talk about the massacre currently plaguing her home country. Shahd, who moved from Omdurman, Sudan, to the United States with her family when she was younger to flee civil political unrest and create a better life, wrote in her Instagram post: “It’s really hard being an influencer and sharing information that is ‘off brand’ and not worthy of the ‘feed’ but I cannot hold this in anymore. I am at my office crying because I have so many emotions in me and I feel horrible. There’s a massacre happening in my country Sudan’s and a media blackout and internet censorship for four consecutive days.”
Now based in New York, the 26-year-old, who still has family in Sudan, also pointed out the lack of media coverage the conflict has received saying, “There is no objective media sharing what’s going on except for @aljazeeraenglish which had their offices shot down.” According to The New York Times, in April the country’s former president Omar al-Bashir, known for being a dictator during his nearly 30 years in office, was “toppled by his [military] generals” following months of peaceful protests that called for a democratic nation. Since then, the African country (the continent’s third largest) has experienced at least 100 killings, with bodies ending up in Nile River (as of June 4), over 70 reported rape case, robberies, and more, all at the hands of the military forces, with Internet and cellular networks being shut down, as well.
After sharing about the massacre, Shahd got personal in her post, explaining, “My friend @mattar77 was MURDERED by the Rapid Support Forces. My best friend was in hiding on June 2 and that’s the last time I spoke to him. He was missing for 4 days and when I got in touch with him he said: ‘I was caught, beaten and abused and humiliated and arrested and had my phone confiscated from me. I am injured currently.’ And all I could do this post this.”
In an interview with Teen Vogue, Shahd says she felt an “impulse” to speak up about the massacre, expressing,
“I couldn’t handle not being in touch with my friends and family members especially those who are out protesting. After I lost contact with my friend it drove me insane and then when I did hear back it was bad news.” Shahd was devastated at work and didn’t have any friends or family around to support her. “I couldn’t keep it all in my head or wait until the end of the day to share.”
In the original Instagram post, Shahd included a note to the brands she is working with, saying, “I am sorry to all companies I am running campaigns with but my editorial calendar is currently on pause. I am willing to refund all and everything right away. Please, just send me an email.”
Shahd tells Teen Vogue that many of the companies have not responded to her, while others have been “so understanding and cooperative,” and she appreciates their support immensely.
Beyond this, Shahd also made a point to share a message with her Instagram community, offering, “To my followers/supporters who this is too much for I am also sorry but my regularly scheduled content/reviews is also on pause. If this offends you, I am sorry. But I need to speak out and share this in a time like this.”
Shahd later explained that it was hard and “scary” for her to share the post because it made her feel “vulnerable and weak”. “As a micro-influencer in the beauty community this photo of me without makeup and with blemishes and zits and tears down my face, it was really crazy,” she revealed. “I felt like being political, which is ironic because I am a political scientist by degree, would be the death of my career.” Her hesitation to be honest online shows just how much pressure there is for influencers to keep up appearances so their followers and brand partners are happy.
Ultimately, Shahd did not expect her post to go viral (it currently has more than 400,000 likes). In fact ,she says, “I expected people to unfollow me and for my influencing career to end right there.” The influencer thought that opening up about the situation would risk her career but that she felt she needed to say something. “It’s important for anyone that has a voice to speak up…If we don’t speak up about terrible injustices, who will?”
At the end of the original posting, Shahd went one step further to tell her followers, “If you want to support me please share this information as widely as possible and don’t be silent. Be an ally because we need your help. And tune into my stories for more information. THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY HAS BEEN SILENT.”
So far, her 62,000 followers have responded positively. “They have stood by me and really touched my heart. I made an active effort to respond back to every single comment, and direct message but I got blocked from responding,” she shares over email. Accordingly, Shahd wishes she could hug every single person who has shared words of support.
When asked what more people can do to support those impacted by the massacre, Shahd says, “I encourage people to keep sharing information about the Sudan Revolution until there’s a civilian led democratic government. It’s important to spread awareness. It’s important to tell everyone what’s going on. Considering the fact that the Internet is completely blacked out, the Sudanese people have no connection with the outside world. So we have to connect them and spread information about their struggles. Also, please donate to funeral funds, and to medical supplies.” Shahd has continued to share about the conflict on her Instagram stories.
Shahd is not the only one speaking up about the massacre on social media. Yesterday, Rihanna also posted about the conflict on her Instagram stories.
“I will continue to protest, even if it takes years to bring down this regime,” said the 26-year-old, who has marched along with hundreds of people in the anti-government demonstrations in Khartoum.
Deadly protests have rocked Sudan since December 19 when angry crowds first took to the streets after the government tripled the price of bread.
Women have joined in even as the protests turned against the government and escalated into bloody confrontations in which officials said at least 24 people have been killed.
Dressed in headscarves, they can be seen in nearly all of the footage of the protests shared on social media, which in turn has helped to convince even more women to take to the streets.
Clapping, ululating and whistling, women have been seen encouraging fellow demonstrators to press on with the rallies even when clashes have erupted between police and protesters.
Many who live in areas where the demonstrations are staged have been seen offering tea and juice to protesters as they pass by, witnesses said.
For Abdo, it was a strong desire to fight for women’s rights that made her want to take part in the demonstrations.
“This regime has some of the worst laws against women,” Abdo told AFP, speaking over WhatsApp for safety reasons.
“You could be arrested for wearing trousers or if your scarf is not covering your hair properly.”
Abdo, who carries a first aid box to protests to help those who are injured, said she has been changing her residence every few days to avoid arrest.
‘End to discrimination’
Hundreds of women have been sentenced to flogging under a controversial public order law in Sudan, activists said.
The decades-old law, they add, also imposes punishments including hefty fines and jail terms, and targets mainly women, including those selling tea on the streets of Khartoum.
A Sudanese court sparked outrage last year when it sentenced teenager Noura Hussein to death for the “murder” of her husband, who she accused of raping her after a forced marriage.
An appeals court later commuted the death sentence to a five-year jail term, after the case drew international condemnation.
Hussein’s plight put the spotlight on issues facing women in Sudan such as marital rape, child marriage, forced marriage and the arbitrary application of Islamic law, along with tribal traditions that often target them.
The protests have given a new voice in the fight for women’s rights, said Emad Badwai, a mother of two and a regular at the anti-government rallies.
“When I chant ‘Freedom, peace and justice,’ I’m hoping to see an end to discrimination against women,” she said.
Hope for change
For Abdo there is also a deep-rooted grievance that motivates her to protest.
“Bashir’s regime has committed the worst crimes against the people of Darfur,” said Abdo, who hails from the western region torn by a devastating conflict.
The war in Darfur erupted in 2003 when ethnic minority rebels took up arms against Khartoum’s Arab-dominated government, accusing it of economic and political marginalisation.
The United Nations said about 300,000 people were killed and another 2.5 million displaced, most of them still living in sprawling camps.
Bashir has been charged by The Hague-based International Criminal Court with genocide and war crimes allegedly committed in Darfur.
Abdo said she had started a non-governmental organisation to oppose child marriage in Darfur, but authorities immediately shut it down.
“They told me that my place was in the kitchen and I should wash dishes,” said Abdo.
Observers said the protests have managed to unite people from different tribes and ethnicities.
“In these protests, I have seen my fellow Sudanese transcend above the embedded racism in our society,” said Babiker Mohamed, a Washington-based humanitarian aid official.
“Protesters chanting ‘We are all Darfur’ while marching in the streets gives us all hope that change is inevitable.”
For Badawi it was indeed time for a change in Sudan.
“Even my 11-year-old son is surprised to know that President Bashir has been ruling for 30 years,” she said.