/ 8 April 2019

Women take leading role in Sudan protests

Sudanese women take the fore in the protests against Omar al-Bashir.
Sudanese women take the fore in the protests against Omar al-Bashir. (Getty Images)

Sudanese women are taking a leading role in protests against President Omar al-Bashir, which have gained added inspiration from the demonstrations in Algeria, opposition figures said at a London conference.

Sara Abdelgalil, head of the UK branch of the Sudan Doctors’ Union, told AFP that Bashir had tried to suppress women during the 30 years he has been in power.

“This regime could not crush down women and women’s ability to fight for change and freedom,” said Abdelgalil, a doctor who moved to Britain in 2001 but is in contact with protest leaders.

“Sudanese women’s resistance and resilience overcome this suppression,” said the 44-year-old.

Protests in Sudan against the government’s decision to triple the price of bread began on December 19 in the central town of Atbara, quickly spreading to the capital Khartoum and other towns.

Officials say 32 people have died in protest-related violence so far, while Human Rights Watch has put the death toll at 51.

The Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), which the doctors’ union is linked to, is leading the protests.

‘My son thought I was dead’

Nemat Malik, an 80-year-old nurse and a university professor in Khartoum, said she was pleased to see so many women — particularly students — taking part.

“This regime is a lot of harassment and oppression for women especially. Women have suffered a lot.

“They look at how you dress and they can give you lashes. That’s why we should be very much interested in overthrowing this regime,” she said.

Sudan adopted sharia law in 1983, but since then has only implemented it randomly.

Under Bashir, who came to power with the help of Islamists in 1989, some rules have been tightened.

According to Sudanese non-governmental groups, some 15,000 women were sentenced to flogging in 2016.

Ihsan Fagiri, 65, a doctor who also teaches in Khartoum, said she was detained for two and a half months by Sudanese security forces to keep her away from the protests.

“From day one when this government came to power, they started to design laws against women. Don’t wear trousers, cover your hair, don’t speak loudly… That’s why we felt that we need to change the government.”

Fagiri said she was held with nine other women in a room measuring six metres by four with only five beds.

She suffers from diabetes, but was not allowed treatment for 15 days and could not see her family for a month.

“My son thought I was dead,” said Fagiri, who in 2009 co-founded a campaign group for women’s rights.

‘Revolution winning’

At their conference in London, the Sudanese medical professionals alleged that security forces have stormed hospitals and fired at injured protesters.

But participants said they were encouraged by events in Algeria, where president Abdelaziz Bouteflika resigned last week after two decades in power following massive street protests.

“What happened in Algeria is exactly what we are calling for,” Abdelgalil said, noting however that Algerians “have not been subjected to violence and human rights violations and killings and detentions” during the protests.

But the Sudanese women believe “the revolution is winning.”

“The government has collapsed. All they depend on is the security forces,” alleged Abdelgalil.

Fagiri added: “It’s a matter of days or weeks”.