I came to Canada through the Nobel Women’s Initiative Sister-to-Sister Mentorship Program. As I now head home to Sudan to continue promoting rights, equality and gender issues I go back to a closed office. The Salmmah Woman’s Resource Center remains closed since the Minister of Justice of Sudan shut its doors in June 2014 as part of the ongoing oppression against civil society organizations operating in Sudan.
The challenges for gender equality are immense in my country. The State perpetrates human rights abuses, and systematically abuses, harasses and segregates women. For example, recently, the Sudanese parliament gathered to pass a law to criminalize female genital mutilation (FGM) of any form for women of any age in Sudan. Before parliament could pass the bill in to law, President Omar al-Bashir publicly stated to parliamentarians, “Even if you pass the bill as a legislative body, I will not sign it nor ratify it as a law to ban FGM.”
The most vulnerable people in our society are we—the women. We are repeatedly oppressed by a State that refuses to advance legislation that protects our rights, and criminalizes acts done against us, such as FGM. The laws of Sudan are designed to oppress women, deprive us of our own free will, and punish us. For example the Criminal Law of 1991 makes legal the punishment of women for adultery, improper dress code, abortion, changing religion, and gathering with an unrelated male companion. These are only examples of written laws—there are many more unwritten practices that strongly violate and abuse women’s rights.
I know I have to stand for myself, and all women of Sudan, to end injustice and inequality. We must urge for the re-opening of Salmmah Center, and for all members of civil society to be able to practice their activism without hindrance or harassment. We must make sure all donors and non-governmental organizations do not fund any government run programs in Sudan without first seeing an improvement in policies related to human rights, women’s rights, and gender equality. With pressure, the government regime will back down from its continuing abuse of citizens, especially women.
My hope is not only for the Salmmah Center to re-open, but for a radical change and transformation of laws in Sudan to advance women’s rights, and an abuse-free society. To repeat the great Martin Luther Kim Jr., “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
I share his dream, and I shall fight for this dream—I will live this dream. I will stand not only for my rights, but for all our rights. To act and fail, rather than fail to act. Better now, than never.
Maha joined us in Ottawa for the 2014 Sister-to-Sister Mentorship Program. She completed six weeks of communications and advocacy training alongside two young women activists from Guatemala and South Sudan. Maha is now continuing her work to defend women’s rights in Sudan.