Sudan women fight gender imbalance in transition

“Women were the dynamo of this revolution, they can’t be taken out of the picture. Otherwise there will be another revolution.” (AFP)
Updated 23 August 2019

Sudan women fight gender imbalance in transition

  • Sudan’s women have yet to take their rightful place in the new institutions
  • “I was very shocked to see the low representation of women... We want to play a role in the civilian government, just like men”

KHARTOUM: They were on the front lines and in the negotiating rooms that brought down military rule but Sudan’s women have yet to take their rightful place in the new institutions.
The signing last week of the documents outlining the transition to civilian rule was a moment of national jubilation, turning the page on 30 years of dictatorship and eight months of deadly protests.
But as the ceremony attended by a host of foreign dignitaries unfolded, one thing jumped out: the only female speaker at the three-hour event was the host.
“That scene was a slap in our face,” Rabah Sadeq, a woman activist and longtime campaigner for gender equality, said the next day.
“So many women are talking about this now, we have to raise this issue,” she told AFP.
Some women attending the signing heckled the speakers to express their displeasure and the indignation quickly spread to the street and social media.
“The participation of women in the revolution was very high, they even encouraged men to join the demonstrations,” said Sarah Ali Ahmed, a student in Khartoum.
“I was very shocked to see the low representation of women... We want to play a role in the civilian government, just like men,” she said.
On Wednesday, Sudan’s new joint civilian-militaryruling body, which is meant to guide the country through 39 months of transition to full civilian rule, was sworn in.
Out of its six civilian members, two are women, although only one was included in the list of nominees initially put forward by the protest camp.
While the opposition alliance’s chief negotiator in the run-up to Sudan’s landmark political deal was a woman, Ibtisam Al-Sanhouri, women were poorly represented in the various negotiating committees.
The shock caused by the all-male line-up at the signing last week, which will go down as a key date in Sudan’s history, appears to have had some impact in recent days.
Sudan’s new prime minister Abdallah Hamdok, who arrived in the country on Wednesday, raised the issue in his first comments to reporters after being sworn in.
“We have to concentrate on women’s participation. Sudanese women played a very big part in our revolution,” said the 61-year-old former UN economist.
“But during the negotiations... as well as during the signing of the documents, it was only men. We have to correct this,” Hamdok said.
Samahir el-Mubarak, a spokeswoman for the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), an independent trade union confederation that played a central role in the protests, argued that women’s under-representation was not too surprising.
“This absence in the institutions is not acceptable but it’s also understandable in a way,” said Mubarak, a 29-year-old pharmacist.
“The organizations and political parties that are active in the transition now have existed all along, and they excluded women.
“But I’m very optimistic this is going to change,” she said.
The legislative body which is due to be formed soon to help steer the country to democratic elections in 2022 will have at least 40 percent of its seats reserved for women.
“In the condition we are in now, we need some kind of positive discrimination... but eventually women are qualified enough to become a majority in parliament and government,” Mubarak said.
Growing awareness over female under-representation in the transition appears already to be bearing fruit, and a woman is now tipped as the next chief justice.
“This is progress but it’s still not the level we want. Women should continue to be empowered,” Rabah Sadeq said.
Sarah Abdul Laleel, a UK-based paediatrician, agreed that women were insufficiently represented.
“When you compare the street and the protests to the institutions, there’s a mismatch,” she said.
Abdul Jaleel, also a member of the SPA, said that political parties did not have people’s trust and that a debate was needed to find news ways to integrate women in the country’s institutions.
Rabah Sadeq argued that parity was in the country’s best interest.
“Asking for more women isn’t just symbolic, they are more committed to peace. It’s not just for equality, it’s for the chances of success of this transition,” she said.
Samahir el-Mubarak said that after decades of oppression under Bashir’s Islamist military regime, women had gained a lot of self-confidence in recent months.
“Women were the dynamo of this revolution, they can’t be taken out of the picture. Otherwise there will be another revolution.”


Outsider leads after divisive Tunisia presidential poll

Updated 16 September 2019

Outsider leads after divisive Tunisia presidential poll

  • Law professor Saied and magnate Karoui, after exit polls showed they had qualified for the second round of voting

TUNIS: Political outsider Kais Saied was leading Tunisia’s election with just over a quarter of votes counted, the election commission said Monday, in the country’s second free presidential vote since the Arab Spring.
Saied was on 19 percent, leading imprisoned media magnate Nabil Karoui, who was on 14.9 percent, and ahead of the candidate from the Islamist-inspired Ennahdha party Abdelfattah Mourou (13.1 percent).
The announcement came after both Saied and Karoui’s camp claimed to have won through to the second round, in the highly divisive polls.
Local papers splashed photos across their front pages of law professor Saied and magnate Karoui, after exit polls showed they had qualified for the second round of voting.
“An unexpected verdict,” ran a headline in La Presse.
Le Temps titled its editorial “The Slap,” while the Arabic language Echourouk newspaper highlighted a “political earthquake” and a “tsunami” in the Maghreb.
The initial signs point toward a major upset for Tunisia’s political establishment, in place since the 2011 uprising that ousted dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
It could also usher in a period of immense uncertainty for the fledgling north African democracy, the sole success story of the Arab Spring revolts.
Tunisia’s electoral commission (ISIE) reported low turnout at 45 percent, down from 64 percent in the country’s first democratic polls in 2014.
Late Sunday, Prime Minister Youssef Chahed called on the liberal and centrist camps to band together for legislative elections set for October 6, voicing concern that low participation was “bad for the democratic transition.”
Chahed, a presidential hopeful whose popularity has been tarnished by a sluggish economy and the rising cost of living, could well turn out to be the election’s biggest loser.
The election comes against a backdrop of serious social and economic crises.
Karoui, a 56-year-old media magnate, has been behind bars since August 23 on charges of money laundering and Tunisia’s judiciary has refused his release three times.
A controversial businessman, labelled a “populist” by critics, Karoui built his appeal by using his Nessma television channel to launch charity campaigns, handing out food aid to some of the country’s poorest.
His apparent rival is political neophyte Saied.
The highly conservative constitutionalist, known to Tunisians for his televised political commentary since the 2011 revolt, has shunned political parties and mass rallies. Instead, he has opted to go door-to-door to explain his policies.
He advocates a rigorous overhaul of the constitution and voting system, to decentralize power “so that the will of the people penetrates into central government and puts an end to corruption.”
Often surrounded by young acolytes, he also set forth his social conservatism, defending the death penalty, criminalization of homosexuality and a sexual assault law that punishes unmarried couples who engage in public displays of affection.
“It’s going to be new,” said a baker named Said on Monday, issuing a wry smile.
“We’ll have to wait and see. Anyway, what matters in Tunisia is the parliament.”
The first round was marked by high rates of apathy among young voters, pushing ISIE head to put out an emergency call to them Sunday an hour before polls closed.
On Sunday morning, senior citizen Adil Toumi had asked as he voted in the capital “where are the young people?“
Political scientist Hamza Meddeb told AFP “this is a sign of very deep discontent with the political class that has not met economic and social expectations,“
“Disgust with the political elite seems to have resulted in a vote for outsiders.”
Distrust of the political establishment runs high in Tunisia, where unemployment is at 15 percent and the cost of living has risen by close to a third since 2016.
Extremist attacks have exacted a heavy toll on the key tourism sector.
Around 70,000 security forces were mobilized for the polls.
The date of a second and final round between the top two candidates has not been announced, but it must be held by October 23 at the latest and may even take place on the same day as legislative polls, October 6.