Disrupt & Innovate

Reclaiming our Voices

23rd October 2018 by Maha Babeker

Every year, millions of women and girls worldwide suffer from violence; whether it is domestic violence, rape, dowry-related killing, trafficking, sexual violence, or other forms of abuse. Violence against women is a gross violation of human rights, and a threat to global peace, security, and development. In Sudan, high levels of poverty and rampant gender-based discrimination have resulted in the systematic violation of women’s rights.

The most vulnerable people in our society are we—the women. We are repeatedly oppressed by a State that refuses to advance legislation that protects our rights, and criminalizes acts done against us, such as FGM. The laws of Sudan are designed to oppress women, deprive us of our own free will, and punish us. For example, the Criminal Law of 1991 makes legal the punishment of women for adultery, improper dress code, abortion, changing religion, and gathering with an unrelated male companion. These are only examples of written laws—there are many more unwritten practices that strongly violate and abuse women’s rights. Having said that, Young women in Sudan are continuously threatened for choosing to speak out in favour of their most basic human rights, and for acting in support of the elimination of sexual violence.

One thing I have learnt from being a ‘Women Human Rights Defender’ is that the entire world, all countries, are connected as a Global Village. All of the challenges we face are shared, and this offers us a very unique opportunity for advocacy. And for that, young women and men need to understand the importance of working in international advocacy to realize that the world is a small place, and human rights are important no matter how big or small. The violations against human rights and women’s rights that we are combatting in Sudan is not only a Sudanese issue, but an international concern. We are not alone in our campaign to combat these violations—we are supported internationally in our struggle for justice and equality.  We are standing shoulder to shoulder with supporters from around the world.

Moreover, Youth groups need to put pressure on Sudan to respect women and girls rights. Pressure can be in the form of campaigns, or it can come from governments, or the international community. People from all over the world need to come together to push for change and reformation of all laws in Sudan that violate human rights, and women’s rights. I also believe that, CSOs need to mainly focus on mobilizing and empowering women and young women’s groups in particular in order to influence policy and overcome structural, political and legal obstacles to the advancement of their rights.

I urge Young Sudanese women and men to continue to advocate for reform to rape laws, and to Sudan’s Revised Penal Code, which is being used as the basis to justify the sentencing of women to cruel forms of punishments such as stoning. They also need to continue to advocate for campaigns to stop the practice of child marriage, and the reform of Sudan’s restrictive dress code laws, which force women and girls to live in fear of being arrested for what they wear. However, progress to the advancement of women’s rights continues to be challenged.

Young women and men have to stand for themselves, and all youth of Sudan, to end injustice and inequality. We must urge for all members of civil society to be able to practice their activism without hindrance or harassment by our government. We must make sure all donors and non-governmental organizations do not fund any government run programs in Sudan without first seeing an improvement in policies related to human rights, women’s rights, and gender equality. With pressure, the government regime will back down from its continuing abuse of citizens, especially women and young girls.

The common narrative of violence and intimidation against Sudanese women and girls must end. Now more than ever, Sudan needs youth leadership and participation to end Gender Based Violence. As Youth Ambassador for Sudan on Sexual Violence in Conflict, I will continue to advocate for women’s rights, and engage young men and women in the battle to end sexual violence, giving youth the tools necessary to speak up and speak out against this scourge. Through non-violent activism, young people in Sudan can challenge the perpetration of human rights abuses, and sow the seeds for sustainable peace. My hope is not only for CSOs that has been shut down by the government like Salmmah Women’s Resource Center to re-open, but for a radical change and transformation of laws in Sudan to advance women’s rights, and an abuse-free society.

I pray that young men and women, in Sudan and around the world, will stand in solidarity with one another as we demand justice and fight for the equality of all citizens.

Maha Babeker

UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict Office

Youth to End Sexual Violence in Conflict

Maha is an activist working to promote women’s rights in Sudan. Her skills vary from creating artwork to support campaigns for women's rights in Sudan to more recently participating in critically acclaimed plays ‘Seven’ in Ottawa to inspire and empower women. Currently, Maha coordinates the Youth Program at the Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic. Maha began her career in 2010 at the Salmmah Women’s Resource Centre, which is one of the oldest women’s rights organizations in Sudan. In December 2014 Maha was appointed the Youth Ambassador for Sudan on Sexual Violence in Conflict. In 2015 She co-hosted a weekly talk show that focused on women’s voices, opinions and experiences. In March 2016, she was one of the speakers at the World Muse Conference in the US to inspire women to create positive social change.