Sudan: Tunisian solidarity with women in Sudan

Magharebia / AWID / Front Line
"Many Tunisians are voicing concerns that Sudan's prosecution of journalist Lubna Ahmed Hussein for wearing trousers could mark a shift away from women's rights and towards religious extremism in the Maghreb."
Students, journalists, and ordinary citizens are expressing alarm over the treatment of Hussein, who faces 40 lashes if convicted of wearing trousers and thereby "offend[ing] public decency” under the Sudanese criminal code. She was arrested in July at a Khartoum restaurant along with other women after police arrived and checked on their attire.
"There is no doubt that the trial of the journalist, Lubna, is the case of every Arab woman," journalist Manal Abdi told Magharebia in a statement. "The case speaks volumes about the extremists and reactionaries in Sudan who don't respect women’s rights or standing."

The Sudanese court decided on Tuesday (August 4th) to adjourn the trial until September 7th. The delay, the second of its kind, came after the defendant's lawyer filed a petition with the court claiming that his client had diplomatic immunity based on her work with the UN mission in Sudan.

The latest trial was marked by confrontations between police and female protesters who staged a sit-in opposite the courthouse to condemn both the trial and the laws that ban the wearing of trousers. The protesters carried banners reading "No Return to the Dark Ages."

"The case has turned into a public opinion case and has attracted more sympathizers, men and women alike, and women’s rights activists, especially because [Hussein] works as a journalist for the UN," said Abdi.

According to Salah Zghidi, a founding member of the Association for the Defense of Secularism in Tunisia, the case confirms the "backwardness" that he said characterized "obscurantists" everywhere.

“It's become necessary for people and the so-called international community to deal with backward regimes based on what they do to women in particular," said Zghidi, adding: "I absolutely can’t accept that international human rights movements, international community bodies and the EU take lots of action when an opposition figure in this or that country is illegally arrested or tortured, while they turn a blind eye to the horrible daily acts of aggression committed against women."

The defendant's lawyer says the case has nothing to do with women's rights.

"The [charges] on which Lubna Hussein is being tried are not the original cause," Hussein's lawyer, Soumia Sandali, told Magharebia in a statement. "The case is fabricated and has nothing to do with women's freedom issues. Rather, the real reason is Lubna's work for the mission of the UN, which recently backed the trial of Sudan’s president in the International Criminal Court."

However, according to a CNN report on Tuesday, Hussein deliberately resigned from her post with the UN mission's media department in order to lose immunity and face the charges.

Even given Sandali's statements, the perception that women's rights are at stake, and that the trial is linked to regional religious extremism, continues to permeate the conversation in Tunis.

"I don’t think that the punishment was only the result of her wearing of the trousers; rather, according to what [Hussein] said in an interview with an Arab TV station, it was also because of her writings as a journalist," journalist Douaja Eweidni told Magharebia. "[She] is just one example of thousands of women who suffer discrimination and violence in some societies that prevent them from exercising their most basic rights."

"I’m shocked by the idea of punishing a girl or a woman because of wearing trousers, or the idea of interfering in personal freedoms," student Salim Ben Arafa told Magharebia in a statement. "I'm also against any religious text dominating public or political life. This is the source of our problems, and it's a disaster that such a situation lingers on in the 21st century.""

by Jamel Arfaoui for Magharebia in Tunis

6 August 2009

Source: Magharebia via AWID