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Sudan urged to ensure justice for raped women protesters

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Women massively participated in nationwide protests of 30 June 2019 (Photo Reuters)

By Nita Bhalla

July 18, 2019 (NAIROBI) - Sudanese women were a driving force during months of protests that ousted veteran autocrat Omar al-Bashir, but the sexual violence they endured risks being forgotten with the signing of a power-sharing deal, women’s rights activists said on Thursday.

Action must be taken to address scores of rapes committed during a deadly crackdown by security forces in June, and ongoing sexual harassment on Sudan’s streets today, they said.

"There has been much recognition for the role that women have played in Sudan’s revolution, but now no one is addressing the sacrifices we have made," said Hala Al-Karib of the Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa.

"We have numerous cases of rape committed by security forces, but still the same perpetrators are out on the streets of Sudan today harassing and intimidating women - and nothing is being done to stop them," she said from Khartoum.

The Sudanese embassy in Nairobi was not immediately available to comment. The military council has previously denied that rape took place.

From students and academics to housewives and street traders, women came out in force to protest against al-Bashir’s 30-year rule, before he was replaced by the military in April.

But the protests didn’t stop as demonstrators demanded the ruling military council swiftly hand power to civilians, leading to a crackdown on June 3, in which at least 128 people were killed, according to the opposition.

The health ministry put the death toll at 61.

The military and an opposition alliance signed an accord on Wednesday aimed at leading the north African nation to democracy with elections in three years. The two sides also agreed to launch an independent investigation into the violence.

Al-Karib, who was active in the protests since they began in December, said the sexual violence was "retribution" for women’s role in the uprising, adding that there was an attempt to "push women back in the home" now a political deal was in place.

Sparked by hardships like soaring inflation and fuel shortages, many women and girls saw the protests as an opportunity to demand greater freedoms in the strict Islamic country, where women’s lives were tightly controlled by men.

Videos posted on social media showed women from Port Sudan in the east to the capital Khartoum dressed in headscarves, marching and chanting, clapping and singing songs.

But the military response was harsh.

The Sudan Doctors’ Committee said it documented 70 cases of rape during the June 3 crackdown and that female students and street vendors reported ongoing harassment, including grabbing and the use of sexist and insulting language across Sudan.

Women’s rights groups across Africa called on the military council to end violations against women and urged the international community to ensure those responsible for the sexual violence were held to account.

"The council has overseen a raft of violations including merciless killings, brutal rape and sexual violence meted out on peaceful demonstrators by state actors and state affiliates," said the Solidarity for African Women’s Rights coalition.

"We call on the African Union, the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development, members of the diplomatic community and friends of Sudan to call for an end to these violations and for a peaceful transition in Sudan."

(Thomson Reuters Foundation)

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