It is now a record four months since the protests calling out Omar al-Bashir to step down started. The world has lost interest, the news vans have gone and tried to find more pressing stories elsewhere.
Yet for Sudanese women, the zeal and valour is growing with each passing day. Why then does our society tend to stereotype women and use the term “woman” as a synonym for “coward”?
It is reported that more than 70% of the protestors inn Sudan are women. To them, the fight is much bigger than an oppressive regime, it is about the way the society at large in Sudan views women and strips her of her humanity and the greatest liberty of all, choice.
When the protests started, the media confused the protests to an uprising on bread prices. However, the rise in bread prices only acted as ignition to a much larger problem than the people of Sudan have been living with. A regime which has no respect for the humanity of the people it serves.
Initially led by mostly male doctors, lawyers and other professionals fed up with economic decline, the movement has since broadened to include more women, youth and political leaders angered by the regime’s corruption and authoritarianism. More and more women are reported to be showing up for protests than men, and the momentum is not wearing off.
A 61-page report released by Human Rights Watch in 2016, “'Good Girls Don't Protest': Repression and Abuse of Women Human Rights Defenders, Activists, and Protesters in Sudan,” documents efforts by Sudanese authorities to silence women who are involved in protests, rights campaigns, and other public action, and who provide social services and legal aid, as well as journalists. Women engaged in these efforts are targeted with a range of abuses, from rape and rape threats, to deliberate efforts to tar their reputations. Their male counterparts may be less likely to experience some of these abuses, yet the women continue to exhibit more bravery than men.
The defiance of Sudan’s women is comparable to the South African uprising by women in protest of the apartheid pass laws. Led by icons such as Winnie Mandela and Albertina Sisulu, the women of South Africa took to the streets with the same amount of courage and bravery as demonstrated by the male liberation icons. They faced the same risks, detention, threats of rape and sexual violence, yet this did not deter them from making their voices heard.
Sudanese women have a long history of political and social activism. Dr. Khalida Zahir, Sudan’s first female doctor, was arrested and flogged in 1946 for opposing British rule. In 1951, she co-founded the Sudanese Women’s Union, which fought for women’s right to vote and equal pay and played a key role in the street protests that toppled dictatorial governments in 1964 and 1985.
“What is happening now is positive and women should be proud of themselves,” says Sara Abdeljaleel, a spokeswoman for the Sudanese Professionals Association, which has led many of the demonstrations. “Despite all the pressure women in Sudan are subjected to, they have showed that their resistance is stronger than the government’s terrorism.”
Images have also been circulating on social media of prominent men who support the government and have criticised the demonstrations, mocking them by feminising their faces on Photoshop. The implication is that they are cowards. This has led a group of feminists to launch a campaign called "Waqto wa naso", meaning "The time has come", calling for such sexist attitudes to be denounced. The language is not justifiable, being fair it is rather the men who have proved cowardly than the women in the case of Sudan.
Just in as much as they have refused to be seen as any lesser than men, the women of Sudan have also refused to be seen as any higher. They have refused to be referred to as “Kandaka”, a name that was once used to refer to the queens that ruled the ancient kingdom of Kush that once occupied the land of Sudan. They are proving how much well aware of the vices of the system that they are fighting, and one such vice is not seeing humans as equal.
Why then do we choose to refer to weakly men as “women”? In all fairness, women have proven to be brave and ready to fight when called upon. Women are leadership, and yes, the future is female. They have proven it is not about the amount of cameras around or how much attention n the world is paying. What matters is taking a stand and fighting an oppressive system.
Header Image Credits: AP Photo/Hassan Ammar