Sudan not abridging women's rights (feature)

Khartoum- Sudan (PANA) -- Journalist Lubna Hussein elicited unprecedented interna tional attention when she allegedly challenged traditional African and Islamic religious edicts on womenâ?s dressing, painting her society as conservative, unprogressive and unresponsive to individual liberties and rights.
Lubna, who in the eyes of Western human rights activists is a martyr, lost her j ob at the United Nations, where she was a communications officer, after she was arrested and charged with â?unbecoming dressingâ? for wearing tr ousers The controversy earned her an invitation to the French Elyse Palace for a meetin g with French President Nicholas Sarkozy for challenging Islam on womenâ?s rights.
Although she does not speak a word of French, since her being subjected to 40 st rokes of the cane, she has published a book in the language on the suppression of women's rights in her country.
To Christians, especially foreign ones visiting Khartoum, the story of Lubna is stranger than fiction.
On any day on the streets of Sudanese capital, there are thousands of women wearing tightly-fitting trousers.
The international media that reported the case painted the Sudanese political an d religious regime as bestial and extremely intolerant.
However, the recent general election, in which women are guaranteed 25 per cent of the 450-me mber national assembly, with the same ratio being applied in 25 regional assemblies, paints a totally different scenario.
When women turned out in large numbers to vote in the 10-15 April general electi ons, the PANA correspondent, intrigued by such high level of enthusiasm, sought opinion on their status.
A female journalist with Sudanese News Agency (Suna), Dr Ibaa Ahmed El-Tigani, i s critical of the manner in which the Lubna saga has been blown out of proportions by the foreign media, creating the impression that Sudanese w omen live under subjugation.
â?Lubna duped the media into highlighting her case to save herself from the hum iliation and possible imprisonment she was facing after she breached a law that prohibits restaurants from operating beyond 11pm.
She was arrested at 1am.
Forget the hullabaloo about dressing, Sudanese women, I included, wear trousers in public, even in offices,â? said Ibaa.
The case was widely publicized in the West, with the French government, which ha s outlawed Muslim women from wearing hijab that covers the entire body â" plus the entire face â" in public at the forefront in making capital out o f the saga that placed Sudan in the league of countries such as Iran, Iraq and A f ghanistan, where women still play a peripheral role in public affairs.
â?We have African blood in our veins.
We see ourselves part of progressive cont inent where women are increasingly playing major roles in decision-making.
Politics and religion do not impose on us stringent moral strictures as you have been made to imagine,â? said the journalist.
The story of Lubna and her alcohol drinking trysts with friends is very interest ing.
According to Ibrahim Dagash, a close friend of her late husband, Lubna beca m e an overnight millionaire when she proposed marriage to her erstwhile 80-plus yea r-old part-time employer.
â?Mr Hussein was a family friend and we visited each other quite frequently.
On e day, he called me to express surprise and joy of being proposed to by a young woman.
He invited me to attend the subsequent wedding that took place in s prawling Omdurman.
He was an immensely rich man whose media outfit is one of the largest on Sudan,â? Dagash said of the origin of Lubnaâ?s wealth.
Lubnaâ?s husband died hardly a week after their marriage during their honeymoon in Dubai.
His demise meant his immense wealth would be turned over to his new wife, which legally she was entitled to.
Asked about the controversy that has forced Lubna into exile, presidential candi date Prof Fatima Abdel Mahmoud, who contested on the platform of the Socialist Union Party (SUP), blames foreign interference for the bad press her country rec eives about womenâ?s liberation.
â?There is no Quranic verse that bars women from running for higher office.
Equ ally, the Quran does not bar women from wearing long trousers.
The charges again s t Lubna said she breached a law that prohibits late-night binges,â? said Fatima, a pioneer female pediatrician.
â?She is also said to have been wearing a transparent blouse (not trousers!), w hich exposed her breasts.
In penalising the office, a judge uses his discretion, there I can fault him,â? said Fatima, the director of UNESCO Chair for Women in Science and Technology in Sudan.
The case has become a cause cأ©lأ¨bre among human rights groups like the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, the Amnesty International and the United Nations, among others offering support.
It even elicited the interest of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who took adva ntage of the ensuing furore to lambast President Omar Hassan el-Bashirâ?s govern ment, accusing it of subjugating women.
To Khartoum State Governor, Dr Abdurahman Ahmed Ekhdir, the furore was unnecessa ry if the international community had sought facts about Sudanese womenâ?s right s.
â?Nature decrees that a woman must always develop besides a man.
The situation in Sudan has changed and cannot be equated to other Muslim or Arab speaking coun t ries.
The bible and Quran do not discriminate against women and that is why they came out in force to assert their influence on society to their vote," said Ekhdir, a former University of Khartoum lecturer.

26 april 2010 14:07:00

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