The battle for women’s rights in ‘new’ Sudan is not yet over

We will no longer wait for our rights, we will fight to obtain them,” – Amani Osmane
KHARTOUM, SUDAN – JULY 18 : Demonstrators gather to commemorate those who lost their lives in the anti-regime protests and demand punishment for those responsible at the Green Square in Khartoum, Sudan on July 18, 2019. Mahmoud Hjaj / Anadolu Agency

She may have spent 40 days in jail for demonstrating against President Omar al-Bashir who has since been toppled but activist Amani Osmane says the battle for women’s rights in Sudan is far from over.

Women have been at the forefront of the revolt which led to Bashir’s overthrow by the military on April 11 after three decades of iron-fisted rule.

Osmane, who is also a lawyer, was detained on the evening of January 12 and escorted to “the fridge”, a grim room where interrogations are paired with extreme cold.

“There are no windows, nothing, just air conditioning at full blast and the lights on 24/7,” she told AFP.

The fridge is part of a detention centre run by the all-powerful National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) in a building on the Blue Nile that runs through Khartoum.

Dozens of activists and political opponents of Bashir’s regime have passed through what NISS agents cynically refer to as “the hotel”.

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Osmane, who spent 40 days behind bars after a frigid seven hours of questioning, said she was arrested “contrary to all laws… because I stand up for women in a country where they have no rights”.

Another activist, Salwa Mohamed, 21, took part each day in protests at a camp outside the army headquarters in central Khartoum that became the epicentre of the anti-Bashir revolt.

Her aim was “to have the voice of women heard” in a Muslim country where she “cannot go out alone, study abroad or dress the way I want”.

Student Alaa Salah emerged as a singing symbol of the protest movement after a picture of her in a white robe leading chanting crowds from atop a car went viral on social media.

Portraits of Salah — dubbed “Kandaka”, or Nubian queen, online — have sprouted on murals across Khartoum, paying tribute to the prominent role played by women in the revolt.

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‘We will no longer wait’

The unrest which has gripped Sudan since bread riots in December that led to the anti-Bashir uprising left scores dead.

Doctors linked to the protest movement say that 246 people have been killed since the nationwide uprising erupted, including 127 people on June 3 when armed men raided the protest camp in Khartoum.

On Wednesday, protesters and the generals who took over from Bashir finally inked a deal that aims to install a civilian administration, a key demand of demonstrators since his fall three months ago.

The accord stipulates that a new transitional ruling body be established, comprised of six civilians and five military representatives.

A general will head the ruling body during the first 21 months of a transition, followed by a civilian for the remaining 18 months, according to the framework agreement.

“We will no longer wait for our rights, we will fight to obtain them,” said Osmane, stressing that women wanted 40 percent of seats in parliament.

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Amira Altijani, a professor of English at the all-female Ahfad University in Omdurman, Khartoum’s twin city, said: “This movement is an opportunity for women to have their voice heard.”

For Osmane, Bashir “hijacked” sharia laws for three decades to oppress women.

“But a new Sudan is rising, with a civilian government that will allow equality,” she said.

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