Sara Elareifi is a Sudanese writer and activist.
The transitional government in Sudan has entered its second year, and Sudanese women are still demanding their right to fair representation in political participation and higher positions.
The transitional government in Sudan has entered its second year, and Sudanese women are still demanding their right to fair representation in political participation and higher positions. It was not in the minds of Sudanese women that their struggle to realize their rights would continue after the fall of the regime of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who was ousted from power in April 2019 after months of popular protests. It is ironic that women find themselves marginalized and excluded under a democratic rule that came after their strong participation in the December revolution. Like men, women were also subject to similar campaigns of repression and abuse that accompanied the December revolution, but their presence diminished when political positions were distributed.
Although the issue of gender inequality is one of the biggest challenges facing women in the world, Sudanese women believed that their position after the revolution would be different compared to other countries. However, this was short-sighted and revealed an unwarranted optimism. Immediately after the fall of al-Bashir regime and the military council’s takeover of the country’s affairs, negotiations began with the Forces of Freedom and Change, the political incubator for the current government. Women had no representation in these negotiations even though they had showed an overwhelming presence in the Army Command sit-in in Khartoum and did not leave the square before the others. In August 2019, the two parties signed a constitutional declaration to govern the country until an elected government is formed. Article 48 (2) of the document states that “the state shall guarantee to both men and women the equal right to enjoy all civil, political, social, cultural and economic rights, including the right to equal pay for equal work and other professional benefits.” This is what was written on paper, but the reality is completely different on the ground. The rights of women approved by the constitutional declaration retreated signicantly compared to the representation of men when assuming political positions, starting with the Sovereign Council of Sudan, which includes 11 members, of which there are only 2 women. On the ministerial level, women’s share was 4 out of 16 ministries. The same thing occurred when civilian rulers were appointed for the states of Sudan, as that period witnessed statements from officials signaling that the demands of women to share state rule were not seriously considered. This sentiment was reinforced by the government spokesperson’s statements in July that appointing women as civilian state rulers faces “extreme difficulties and resistance from the political forces.” In response, women went out in protest rallies chanting, “Our rights in full without compromise,” in reference to gender equality stipulated in the constitutional declaration. Two weeks later, Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok announced the appointment of only 2 women as civilian state rulers out of 18 states.
Now, the most important remaining part to complete the power structures is the formation of the Legislative Council, which the constitutional declaration stipulated that women would have no less than 40 percent of representation. After the signing of the peace agreement between the transitional government and the armed movements on October 3rd in Juba, South Sudan capital, though, fears have increased that the percentage of women in the Council might decrease. The declaration document was recently amended according to the agreement to have the armed movements represented in the Sovereign Council with three new members and five ministries. The percentage of the armed movements’ representation in the Legislative Council, which has not yet been formed, is 25%, which means that the Sudanese Revolutionary Front (SRF) would get 75 seats out of 300.
These recent changes in the representation percentages between the transitional government and SRF undoubtedly indicate the imminent dissolution of the government and thus redistribution of all positions, and this is precisely what raises women’s concerns of further exclusion and marginalization. These are naturally legitimate concerns because the government has a precedent in not adhering to the constitutional declaration before the amendment, which proves that women’s demands for equality are secondary to government priorities.
It is noteworthy that the accusations included the Forces of Freedom and Change, the political incubator for the transitional government, for deliberately excluding women from high-ranking positions and creating marginal positions as consolation prizes, which opens the door to doubts about the political parties’ use of women and their rights as a pressure card during the revolution for political gains. Women rights defenders are concerned about the extent to which political parties in Sudan are sincere in talking about the need to include women and enhance their right to participate in the democratic building process and increase their representation in political circles.
In their turn, women of the revolution did not lose hope in continuing to demand their rights. They resorted to freedom of expression, an opportunity that was not available during the era of the previous regime. Sudan Capital Khartoum witnesses women’s rallies from time to time to remind Prime Minister Hamdok of the importance of commitment to fulfilling their demands and the promises he made to support the right of women to take part in the responsibility.
The complications related to the participation of women in power in equal or appropriate proportions will not be resolved in the near future. This issue will remain a subject of controversy for years to come until we have decision-makers who want real change and are convinced of the political capabilities and professional competence of Sudanese women. This competence of many Sudanese women is a fundamental factor in pushing forward the democratic transition and building the new Sudan. Until then, the demand for equality between men and women in civil and political rights will remain a dead letter.
Photo caption: Sudanese women lift national flags by burning tyres as they take part in a demonstration on Sixty Street in the capital Khartoum, on May 23, 2020, to commemorate the first anniversary of a deadly crackdown carried out by security forces on Sudanese protesters during a sit-in outside army headquarters in the capital, with a death toll of over a 100. (Photo by Ashraf SHAZLY / AFP) (Photo by ASHRAF SHAZLY/AFP via Getty Images)