Tag Archives: women

“Undesirable harlots”: women in the South Sudan national archives

Quote from a file on Murle-Dinka relations, South Sudan National Archives

A file on Murle-Dinka relations, South Sudan National Archives

There’s lots of detail in the South Sudan National Archives: I’ve mentioned this before.  What I didn’t mention is how many women there are.  Obviously any archive, when read properly, contains women’s history; despite the erasure and irrelevance of women to the vastly male writers of historical documents (until, hopefully, recently), it’s hard to completely get rid of an entire pesky gender.  What I am enjoying though in the South Sudan National Archives, as they take shape, is looking at how a determined researcher – with a significant amount of time on their hands – could write a very interesting, if a bit scattergun, history of women in South Sudan from these records.

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Archive Times: The Church Missionary Society and Save the Children Fund UK, Birmingham Special Collections

I’ve been on hiatus from this blog because everything kicked off at work; a conference to organise, and teaching work with archive visits slotted in between.

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Interim to Transitional to Interim: the new draft Transitional Constitution of South Sudan 2011

The freshly drafted transitional constitution has been released!  A PDF is available here.

After a few years of legal work and writing a paper partly on the history of citizenship law in north and south Sudan, I am disproportionately excited by new legislation from the South, and so have decided to break down the key changes (social and political, rather than structural) in this new draft as an exercise in putting this constitution in historical context.  There have been significantly more transitional, provisional and interim constitutions in Sudan – north and south – than ratified constitutions, and I’m keeping a collection.

This draft is a transitional version including its own provisions for interim structures of government.  Various parties in South Sudan say the constitution has been entirely rewritten and is dictatorial; although I’d agree that this is a pretty blatant attempt at consolidating SPLM power, the only major change is the assertion that the presidency shall be for four years following 9 July, without new elections.  This is matched by a general obfuscation over the organisation of a wider constitutional review.  The other political statement – much less subversive – is that Abyei is claimed under the Abyei Arbitration Tribunal Award as ‘the territory of the nine Ngok Dinka chiefdoms transferred from Bahr el Ghazal Province to Kordofan Province in 1905.’

On a different note, Arabic has now been completely dropped from the national languages section, and I’m hoping for debates in the future over whether it counts as ‘indigenous:’ in my mind it definitely does.  English is now the only official working language of the government, although I’m not sure how far this will actually work in practice (6.1).

This change to presidential terms and elections is clearly a serious issue and one of a number of concerning moves by the SPLM and GoSS to consolidate a real authoritarian hold on power.  However, in broader political terms, this draft of the constitution is a boring continuation of the fobbing-off of questions of citizenship and women’s rights.  It looks good, initially.  This version does lay out the explicit provision for dual citizenship (45.5), in line with GoSS’s stance on movement between north and south, in contradiction to Garang’s 2003 New Sudan Nationality Act and northern statements.  Although the constitution, as with the interim version in 2005, is impressively liberal on women’s rights to property, inheritance, marital choice, citizenship and government representation, Southern laws drafted since 2003 have frequently contradicted this.  Similarly, although this constitution’s definition of the South Sudan community has no reference to ethnicity as a feature, this is undermined by the New Sudan Nationality Act and the Referendum Act – which many have said should form the basis for a new Nationality Law after independence – emphasising ethnicity as a key marker in citizenship provisions, and restricting access to citizenship for women and most particularly the children of single women.

It basically seems traditional to have as nebulous and liberal a constitution as possible, particularly when most parties are trying to avoid the resolution of questions like Abyei and citizenship rights; however, in light of the two-tier, ethno-centric proofs of citizenship established in the two pieces of Southern legislation on nationality so far, this constitution is potentially a bit of a red herring for optimism over dual citizenship and gender equality.

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Interim to Transitional to Interim: the new draft Transitional Constitution of South Sudan 2011

The freshly drafted transitional constitution has been released!  A PDF is available here.

http://www.sudantribune.com/Draft-constitution-of-the-Republic,38679

After a few years of legal work and writing a paper partly on the history of citizenship law in north and south Sudan, I am disproportionately excited by new legislation from the South, and so have decided to break down the key changes (social and political, rather than structural) in this new draft as an exercise in putting this constitution in historical context.  There have been significantly more transitional, provisional and interim constitutions in Sudan – north and south – than ratified constitutions, and I’m keeping a collection.

This draft is a transitional version including its own provisions for interim structures of government.

Despite various parties in South Sudan saying the constitution has been entirely rewritten,

http://af.reuters.com/article/worldNews/idAFTRE73P38320110426?pageNumber=1&virtualBrandChannel=0

the only major change is the assertion that the presidency shall be for four years following 9 July, without new elections.  This is a neatly tactical decision by the SPLM, matched by a general obfuscation over the organisation of a wider constitutional review.  The other political statement – much less subversive – is that Abyei is claimed under the Abyei Arbitration Tribunal Award as ‘the territory of the nine Ngok Dinka chiefdoms transferred from Bahr el Ghazal Province to Kordofan Province in 1905.’

On a different note, Arabic has now been completely dropped from the national languages section, and I’m hoping for debates in the future over whether it counts as ‘indigenous:’ in my mind it definitely does.  English is now the only official working language of the government, although I’m not sure how far this will actually work in practice (6.1).

However, in many social and more broadly political respects, this draft of the constitution is a continued fobbing-off of questions of citizenship and women’s rights: this version does lay out the explicit provision for dual citizenship (45.5), in line with GoSS’s stance on movement between north and south, although in contradiction to Garang’s 2003 New Sudan Nationality Act and northern statements.  Although the constitution, as with the interim version in 2005, is impressively liberal on women’s rights to property, inheritance, marital choice, citizenship and government representation, Southern laws drafted since 2003 have frequently contradicted this.  Similarly, although this constitution’s definition of the South Sudan community has no reference to ethnicity as a feature, this is undermined by the New Sudan Nationality Act and the Referendum Act – which many have said should form the basis for a new Nationality Law after independence – emphasising ethnicity as a key marker in citizenship provisions, and restricting access to citizenship for women and most particularly the children of single women.

It basically seems traditional to have as nebulous and liberal a constitution as possible, particularly when most parties are trying to avoid the resolution of questions like Abyei and citizenship rights; however, in light of the two-tier, ethno-centric proofs of citizenship established in the two pieces of Southern legislation on nationality so far, this constitution is potentially a bit of a red herring for optimism over dual citizenship and gender equality.

The PDF version of the constitution can be found here:

http://www.sudantribune.com/Constitutional-review-S-Sudan,38688

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International women’s day 2011 and Sudan: women in the Sudanese media

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.

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Women in referendum stories

I’m saving a lot of referendum news articles under the title “referendum stories”.  If I were in South Sudan now, I probably wouldn’t leave the voting queues for all the lovely narrative arcs: apparently there are impromptu speech-givings, but I also imagine that a lot of people are situating themselves in a historical event, talking about the story of their lives in terms of change, liberation and closure.  The international media are loving them too, and I’m getting a lot of the proceeds.

One problem I know I’ve discussed and thought about before is how to find women’s accounts.  Other than men being frequently louder and more confident in their speaking, social position and English skills in giving information, there are many problems in trying to interview women.

A quick and entirely unscientific survey of the 107 news reports called “stories” I’ve collected from 3-12 January backs up this problem of a bias towards men’s personal narratives.  Not counting elected party leaders or SSRC/IOM voting officials, there are 49 men named and quoted individually; in US reports alone, there are 16 “Lost Boys” giving their accounts and feelings.  In contrast, 11 women are quoted in reports from South Sudan.  An additional 7 women are quoted in reports from the US, usually with far longer quotes.  There are also two “Lost Girls” giving their stories – with particularly interesting and emotional accounts of being actually in the polling booth.

That’s 65 men versus 20 women; a one in three, reflecting the dominance of men in community groups, how journalists find it easier to approach men for fear of cultural embarrassments, the usually male interpreters who know the men in the queue, the registration bias towards men that’s been frequently reported – with no actual statistics available as far as I can tell yet (please let me know if you have some!) – and the “Lost Boys” preoccupation in the American press.  Ultimately it’s about the English language, too – women were far more likely to be quoted in US articles alongside men, whereas writing on Southern Sudan threw up a few examples where a journalist had clearly set out to talk to women, such as Rebecca Hamilton’s interview with four women in a ‘vulnerable people’ queue in Bentiu.

I’m not drawing out any points – as the long sentence above shows, there are plenty of reasons for this – other than it’s something I continue to be aware of, and want to be constantly aware of.  It’s too easy to be so excited by the fantastic information you’re getting from interviews and forget the longer, slower process of talking to women and gaining the same confidences – and confident stories – as with men.  I’ll probably come back to this again and again (partly because the academic and NGO research work already done on my particular area of interest, the Southern population in Khartoum, is often substantially focused on abuses perpetrated against women), but I thought it worth writing, as it’s a notable phenomenon in the reporting of “stories” at the moment.  I’m going to wait for voting to close, and for “referendum stories” to dry up slightly, before starting to think about the stories themselves.

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Filed under Procrastination, Referendum, Sudan, Women