Happy International Women’s Day!
Although I can’t find any events online being held in Sudan, I’m going to do a quick roundup of some thoughts I’ve had as a feminist student looking at Sudan.
After my post on reporting of women’s opinions in the press during the referendum, I’ve been keeping a mental tally of how women are represented in Sudanese news. This isn’t a new thing, but I’ve been discussing the importance of integrating women fully into research lately with my housemate Zoe.
It’s too easy to find vast numbers of stories about women and rape in Sudan – and also some stories about abuses against women on the grounds of marriage issues, alleged adultery and Islamicist dress codes. Several female human rights activists and student protesters have been sexually abused lately. The coverage of violence against women during marriage negotiations and over extra-marital relationships in Lakes recently has been welcome; however, there’s very little analysis in this reporting, other than the welcome announcement that GoSS will look at a law against violence against women.
This isn’t surprising, or wrong – sexual abuse in conflicts and as political repression, as well as in everyday repression of women, is a vast and horrific issue which receives insufficient and often poor media coverage. As Major-General Patrick Cammaert, the former UN peacekeeping commander in the Democratic Republic of Congo, said in 2008: “It is now more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in modern conflict.”
However, women’s voices on anything other than the horror of their rape experiences are mostly lacking in these accounts. This isn’t to underplay the centrality of the attack to these women’s lives, or to underestimate the problems women face in trying to speak out about their experiences directly: although recently Safiya Eshaq has done just this. But often it leads to really frustrating reporting: this report on allegations of sexual abuse of female police trainees has no testimony from women, but quotes a male recruit’s frustration at being made to buy his own soap.
The discussion of women predominantly as rape and marital violence victims is overwhelming, compounding this separation of “women’s rights” from reports on political activism; women are only pictured in the reports on youth activism in Sudan, and the term “youth” perpetually refers exclusively to young men: a “political activist” in the media at the moment is assumed male until proven female, and if female, usually only appears in reports of her rape or abuse.
In conclusion, then, women are still being reported in terms of their physical victimhood. There aren’t many reports that give time to women as active thinkers and doers as well as abused bodies; the reports that do still focus on women’s testimonies of their rape. I think the situation is better in reporting on the Congo, but Sudanese media on women in the mainstream press has a long way to go.
In other news, one of the youth groups in Khartoum have called for renewed protests on 21 March – I will try to look out for updates on planning, but for now here are some facebook pages to watch for more information.