Three decades of dictatorship, gone. Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, rejoiced on April 11th as Omar Al-Bashir was forced out of office. The Sudanese people have never been more united in demanding a civilian-led authority. However, these protests foreshadow not only a new chapter for Sudan, but for the Arab woman. Inclusion of women in security, governance, justice and peace talks can lead to a 35% increase in sustainable, peaceful negotiation agreements and there has never been a more fitting time to allow women the political representation they so greatly deserve.
Adorned in white garments and golden earrings, Alaa Salah quickly emerged as the symbol of these protests. Locals have dubbed female activists, Kandaka, meaning Nubian queen. In the River Nile state of Atbara, the issue of increased bread prices struck a much larger chord, sparking the demise of Islamist leader Omar Al-Bashir’s oppressive regime. With Bashir’s ousting, followed by the resignation of three ruling Transitional Military Council (TMC) members, the protestors are adamant for a truly civilian government. They are not here for the counterrevolution. Peace will not prevail over Sudan, so long as Sudanese women remain excluded from peace process.
Outnumbering men, female activists comprised an estimated 80% of all protestors. Sudanese women from all ages and walks of life feel united in this fight. As Ihsan Abdulaziz noted, once the protests spread like wildfire, they were “no longer limited to politically active women, all the women were out in the street”. While the overwhelming female turnout is outstanding, it should come as no surprise. Women have been marginalised and targeted by Bashir for some time now.
In Sudan, women have been prime victims of gender-based violence and double-standards that have permitted excessive use of force and punishment in Sudan’s justice system. Under Sharia Law, many young women and girls have endured corporal punishments such as flogging and stoning under vague public order laws. Al-Bashir’s restrictive regime has been called out for endorsing violent attacks against women that range from rape and assault, to racial abuse at the hands of security services during crackdowns. Since December young women and girls engaged in protests, social services, journalism, and human rights campaigns have been exceptionally vulnerable. From reports of sexual assault committed by military personnel to marginalisation by vaguely defined laws, there is not a shadow of doubt that women were rightfully at the forefront of demonstrations calling for Al-Bashir to step down.
Social marginalization of women is the greatest threat to a sustainable peace settlement.
When we speak of civil wars, famines, poverty, violent extremism; in most scenarios, women and children are among the most affected and the most vulnerable. So why is it that when we come to speak of conflict resolution or peace processes, only 9% of negotiators and 4% of signatories at official peace talks are women?
As of the May 2019, Sudan has faced a number of roadblocks in its transition of power. Protesters are very much against rule by the military junta. Negotiations between the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA; leading force organizing the protests) and the TMC are at a deadlock. Until SPA stakeholders continue to exclude women from peace talks, we should stop envisioning a peaceful transition for Sudan. In fact, The United States expressed their endorsement of a Sudanese government should it be “respectful of human rights and the rule of law.” Given that women for years have been victims of mass human rights abuses under Bashir’s regime, their success in leading demonstrations and engaging the wider public highlights the need to recognise women within the political sphere.
Whilst local female protesters and leaders like Alaa Salah and Ihsan Abdulaziz eloquently demonstrate how inclusivity can influence national outcomes, their participation and success in these protests is merely a sliver of what women do for civil society. It is evident that women can influence policy changes; the next step is to encourage, empower and equip local female leaders like Salah and Abdulaziz to demand rightful change. The local Sudanese community has been critical of the masculine structure of the SPA itself. In response, the SPA has revealed plans for a 40% female legislative assembly. Although this is indicative of a step in the right direction, attitudes of local communities towards women in politics needs to shift.
In the wake of the 2020 American Elections, we have seen a record number of women running for office. This rhetoric of a political struggle should be shared cross borders. Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Marianne Williamson, Tulsi Gabbaard, and Kirsten Gillibrand all have a common narrative to leverage here. Local and International actors need to pressure decision-makers in the Sudanese power transition to recognise more women in the peace process.
Only then can we credit Sudan for a successful Arab Spring.
Shivani Somaiya is a Graduate student at New York University’s Graduate School of Arts and Science, working towards achieving her Master of Arts in International Relations and Affairs. In 2018, she graduated with her Bachelor of Arts in International Relations from Royal Holloway, University of London.