In Sudan, the numbers of women political prisoners are rising, largely because the numbers of women protesting the government and the state are rising. Last week, in response to both economic difficulties stemming from South Sudan’s independence (and loss of oil revenues) and World Bank ‘advice’, the government of Sudan ended gas subsidies. Good ‘economic’ sense? Doubtful. A hardship for working households, and in particular for women? Definitely, thanks to the impact on both transportation and household goods.
So, again, the women of Sudan took to the streets. Last year, around this time, women university students protested the astronomical rise in meal and transportation costs. The protests spread like wildfire, and the government remained in place. The struggle continued. Women’s groups and others have continued to organize in the intervening period.
When the news of the new price hikes hit, women hit the streets. This time the protests started in rural areas and cities other than Khartoum, places like Madani, where novelist Rania Mamoun engaged in peaceful protest. She, her sister and brother, along with others, were hauled off, beaten, threatened, intimidated.
Then the protests moved to the capital. Again, women set the spark. Some ask if the current wave of protests is another ‘Arab spring.’ Perhaps. But they are also and more importantly the newest chapter in the continent’s IMF Riots.
On Monday, social media activist, and ironically World Bank employee, Dalia El Roubi, was arrested … or at least taken away. Apparently, she had participated in a funeral procession for Salah Sanhouri, gunned down in last week’s protests. And now … she is in the hands of the National Intelligence and Security Services, NISS, which means she could be anywhere.
None of this is new. Sudanese women have been organizing and struggling for both their own autonomy and power, and for a progressive nation-State, for decades. In the 1950s, the Sudanese Women’s Union formed and organized publicly through the 1960s. In the 1970s it had to go underground, and continued to organize. From 1985 to 1989, it organized, once again, out in the open, until the Bashir coup, when it was once again relegated to the underground. At the same time, the Republic Brothers was persecuted for their progressive positions on women’s equality and personal status laws.
Sudanese women have been organizing for a long time. They have organized against the public order police, women like Amira Osman, Sara, Halima, Amena and others currently on trial, awaiting and contesting punishment. They have organized against various kinds of austerity measures. Dalia El Roubi protested against austerity last year, and again this year. And now, her family, friends, and others wonder where she is.
On Monday, students at al-Ahfad women’s university demonstrated, and were assaulted by police. Yesterday, Thursday, women and children protested, outside the NISS offices. Their message was simple: “Freedom for my mum.”
Their message is simple. Freedom.