In Sudan, women demand freedom … again!

On December 19, 2018, in Sudan, people took to the streets to protest a precipitous rise in bread prices. Since then, the protests have persisted and grown. As so often in food uprisings, the price of food was the visible spark that revealed an undergrowth of fire, and, again, as so often, women of Sudan set and sustained the spark. Remember June 2012, when women students responded to astronomical increases in transportation and food prices? A few university women students took to the streets, shouting “Girifna!” “Enough is enough!” Within days, their small demonstration inspired a sandstorm, which was met with severe State repression. Remember the Sudanese women of June 2012? Remember September 2013, when, again in response to austerity measures this time involving gasoline prices, women took to the streets? This time the protests started in rural areas and then moved to the cities. Then others joined in and, again, the protests turned into a national crisis, which, again, was met by severe repression. Remember the Sudanese women of September 2013, and the Sudanese Women’s Union of the 1950s and 1960s, and the Sudanese who have organized continually from the 1950s on, for women’s autonomy and national dignity? Remember them? They’re back.

While the world press has only fitfully noticed the ongoing protests across Sudan, it has taken note of the leading role of women in those demonstrations. On Friday, December 28, across Sudan, people protested in the streets and were quickly met with force: “The demonstrations were the most widespread since the protests began in the city of Atbara on December 19 in response to the government raising the price of bread from one Sudanese pound to three. They were also notable for the large number of women taking part, including one led by women in the Tuti Island area of Khartoum.”

As the demonstrations grew and persisted into January, more and more women joined in, despite or because of the government’s increasingly violent response: “Dressed in headscarves, they can be seen in nearly all the footage shared on social media, which in turn has helped to convince even more women to take to the streets.” Twenty-six-year-old Aseel Abdo explained, “I will continue to protest, even if it takes years to bring down this regime … This regime has some of the worst laws against women. You could be arrested for wearing trousers or if your scarf is not covering your hair properly.”

As the demonstrations grew and persisted into February, women took to the frontlines of the demonstrations. They organized in prison, they organized on the streets, and they called for revolution. That was not a surprise. As women’s rights activist Hala Al-Karib noted, “The price of bread was a trigger for protests, but it’s not about bread, it’s about equality. It’s about dignity, it’s about freedom. The government has an Islamic militant ideology which at its core aims to exclude women from the public space. For 30 years, women in Sudan have fought against this oppression, so it’s no surprise they are out in significant numbers now … I am very hopeful and I haven’t been this hopeful before. There is such a strong demand for change and, as women, we have played a very strong role in opposing this regime. There’s no turning back now.”

Women have marched to women’s prisons to protest the incarceration of their sisters, demanding freedom, chanting, “Long live the struggle of Sudanese women!” When the security forces attacked women, they used all-women Facebook websites to identify the perpetrators and demanded justice.

Today marks the beginning of the third month of persistent, sustained and expanding protests in Sudan. Call it a wave, a revolt, a revolution, a sandstorm, whatever you call it, remember that women are setting and sustaining the momentum. Long live the struggle of Sudanese women! It’s about freedom. Remember the Sudanese women of 2018 and 2019?

(Photo Credit: News24 / AFPTV / AFP)

About Dan Moshenberg

Dan Moshenberg is an organizer educator who has worked with various social movements in the United States and South Africa. Find him on Twitter at @danwibg.