The Clothes That Will Get You Flogged in Sudan

‘Morality laws’ target women in the embattled African nation.

(Photo: Ashraf-Shazly/Getty Images)

Oct 6, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Kristina Bravo is Assistant Editor at TakePart.

If you’re a woman in Sudan, it's easy to find yourself on the wrong side of the law. Last year in South Darfur, 150 female tea vendors were arrested and fined for the crime of wearing “tight” clothes and failing to wear socks.

A report released last week, In Search of Confluence: Addressing Discrimination and Inequality in Sudan, detailed the jail time, fines, and beatings that Sudanese women are subjected to for violating article 152 of the Criminal Law Act of 1991, which makes “indecent or immoral dress” punishable by 40 lashes, a fine, or both.

Equal Rights Trust, with the help of the Sudanese Organization for Research and Development, collected four years’ worth of fieldwork and interviews to reveal the scale of discrimination and inequality in Sudan. “Article 152 hangs like a sword over women’s necks, often being used by the police and security forces against women,” Ebtisam Sanhouri Elrayh, a lecturer of constitutional law and human rights at the University of Khartoum in Sudan, says in the study.

Sudan’s restrictions on women concern more than just how they’re required to cover their bodies. A woman under 35 isn’t allowed to manage a hair salon. Women aren’t allowed to dance with or in the presence of men. In May, Miriam Ibrahim was sentenced to death for marrying a Christian man and converting from Islam to Christianity. The conviction was later quashed; she and her family—Ibrahim was pregnantfled to the United States.

In a 2013 case that sparked global protests, civil engineer Amira Osman Hamed was arrested when she refused to wear a hijab. “I’m Muslim, and I’m not going to cover my head,” she reportedly said during the arrest. Osman was released after an international outcry; along with other activists, she is now fighting for women’s rights and working to reverse Sudan’s discriminatory laws.

Osman spoke at a press conference in Nairobi, Kenya, announcing the release of the report.

“Since 1989, [President Omar] al-Bashir has sought to degrade and diminish the country’s immense diversity in favor of a narrow vision of Sudan as a singularly Arab, Islamic, and male-dominated country,” she said. “In so doing, the government has institutionalized discrimination on the basis of religion, ethnicity, political opinion, gender and sexual orientation.”

According to the report, al-Bashir, who has ruled since staging a coup 25 years ago, has threaded conservative interpretations of sharia law (rules based on the Koran) into Sudan’s legal system. In 2009, the International Criminal Court charged him with war crimes for atrocities he ordered in Darfur, where at least 200,000 people were killed by pro-government militias and air strikes in a conflict brought on by climate change.

“The al-Bashir government…promotes a narrow vision of Sudan as an Arab, Islamic nation,” the report concludes. “But the evidence presented here, with the voices of resistance and protest permeating Sudan’s world, suggests that the confluence of peace and social cohesion cannot be achieved by pressing in this direction.”

Besides gender inequality, the report addresses discrimination in the country across the board, including political views and sexual orientation.

The tea sellers each had to pay a fine of 300 Sudanese pounds.