Fighting violence against women
The Sudanese government has announced the abolition of draconian laws that punished women accused of “indecent and immoral acts” with arrest and flogging. During the autocratic rule of the now-deposed President Omar al-Bashir, physical punishment of women was enforced based on the regime’s repressive interpretation of Islamic sharia.
Such punishment was inflicted on women for attending private parties and wearing trousers as part of an overall approach that frowned upon their rights.
Activists applauded the decision by Khartoum’s transitional authorities.
“With this decision, Sudan is now moving toward a new life where women can enjoy dignity,” said prominent Sudanese activist Tahani Abbas.
But the struggle to stop violence against women continues in Sudan and the rest of the Middle East and North Africa region.
In the MENA region, women are even more victimised in war-torn and terrorist-plagued areas. Rape has frequently been used as a weapon of war by belligerents in Syria. Displaced women and refugees are vulnerable to exploitation. Women were part of the spoils of “jihad” for the terrorists of the Islamic State (ISIS). Thousands of Yazidi women, including girls, were subjected to rape and torture by ISIS terrorists.
Without counting situations of conflict, no fewer than 37% of women in the Arab world are estimated to have been victims of domestic violence.
Part of the struggle will be fought in the legal field. Despite recent progress in a number of Arab countries, most parts of the region still lack adequate laws to protect women against various forms of violence, including honour killings, genital mutilation, rape and physical coercion of all types.
Across the region, relatives are often to blame. Almost 80% of those responsible for abuses against women are the heads of their families. As the family fabric gets ripped apart in urban environments, it leaves a fertile ground for the mistreatment of women — 70% of violent acts against women occur in big cities.
Violence is part of anachronistic and unfair social practices. Forced marriages, for instance, expose Arab girls to abuse in a region where about 14% are wedded before the age of 18.
Female genital mutilation (FGM) is still commonly performed on young women with the consent of their families. UN studies state that 92% of women and girls between 15 and 49 years of age in Egypt have been subjected to the practice, but recent findings do show progress. Among girls 15 to 17 years of age, FGM has declined from 74% in 2008 to 61% today. More than 70% of Sudanese women are subjected to the practice.
Fighting violence against women is not just a regional but also a global cause. The UN women’s agency has initiated a 16-day campaign against gender-based violence around the world, which started November 24. The international momentum should give Arab women encouragement as they struggle for rights and dignity. Their struggle is that of whole Arab societies for equality and progress.