Sudanese journalist Lubna Hussein was honored by Karama and the Arab Women’s Fund with the 2009 ‘Mahfoutha’ Sindiyanat El-Karama Award for challenging a decency law in Sudan which forbids women from wearing pants. Standing trial in September 2009, Ms. Hussein faced a punishment of 40 lashes and one month in prison.
Surrounded by women’s rights leaders from across the Middle East and North Africa to present Ms. Hussein with the ‘Mahfoutha’ Award, Karama Chair and Arab Women’s Fund founder Hibaaq Osman declared, “They say she committed a crime against dignity. We are different women from different countries, from Egypt, to Lebanon, to Jordan, to Sudan, to Morocco, to Bahrain, to Kuwait, to Mauritania, to Somalia, and Oman, and we are showing the world that Lubna Hussein stands for our dignity. We are going to protect her, we are going to encourage her, and we want to tell everyone—this woman is dignity itself.”
At the ceremony, approximately 90 people from across the region lauded Ms. Hussein’s endeavor to defend the right to dignity for every woman in Sudan. Arrested in July 2009 along with thirteen other women for violating Article 152 of Sudanese criminal law, Ms. Hussein was charged with wearing indecent dress in public, specifically a pair of green trousers. Determined to take the case to trial, she resigned from her position as a United Nations journalist in order to relinquish immunity from prosecution, and garnered international attention to the injustice of discriminatory laws and institutional violence applied to women in Khartoum.
During her address accepting the Mahfoutha Award, Ms. Hussein referred to her arrest as illegitimate and a discriminatory practice which has been imposed on 43,000 innocent women in Khartoum last year. “The problem is not only that laws are unconstitutional, but that they also violate human rights and international agreements,” she declared. While in Cairo, Ms. Hussein also participated in the CEDAW Regional Celebration commemorating 30 years of advocacy, noting Sudan’s inaction to ratify this treaty to end all forms of discrimination against women. Nevertheless, women’s organizations in Sudan have focused on reforming discriminatory laws—such as laws governing public decency, prohibiting women from working night shifts, and challenging women’s nationality—to bring them into compliance with the 1998 constitution’s guarantee of gender equality and with other international treaties which the government has already ratified.
Sudanese women activists have been lobbying for ratification of CEDAW since 1995 when they came back from the Beijing World Conference on Women, however opposing forces also began campaigning. With support from Karama, a legal rights organization in Khartoum named Mutawinat plans to launch a campaign in 2010 to attract 1 million signatures in support of CEDAW ratification.
Meanwhile, Lubna Hussein will continue to campaign against the public decency law which she was charged with violating. Despite a ban on her leaving Sudan, she traveled to France last month to promote her book 40 Lashes for a Pair of Trousers. Ms. Hussein resolves to return to Sudan to continue fighting alongside fellow women for their constitutional rights and against this law.
The Mahfoutha El-Sindiyanat Award was named after its first recipient Mahfoutha Shtayyeh of Palestine, who received the award in 2007 for her strength, passion, and willpower. As Israeli soldiers and settlers uprooted hundreds of the olive trees in her village of Nublus, stripping her community’s lands, livelihoods and dignity, 65-year-old Mahfoutha clung to the wreck of one of her trees in protest. The Sindiyanat (oak tree) is a symbol of the strength, resilience, struggle, endurance and loyalty she embodied at that moment and of the qualities Karama and the Arab Women’s Fund recognize and celebrate in the annual recipient of the award.
Karama: For more information on Karama, please visit www.el-karama.org or contact Sarah Vaill, +2-0162180927, email@example.com or Zahra Radwan at +202-25272372.