On Dec. 10, charges of indecency against 24 women, who were caught wearing trousers at a party, were dropped in Khartoum, Sudan.
The same day, Wini Omer, a journalist and human rights activist, who was covering the court hearing, was arrested on similar charges of "criminal indecent clothing." She was acquitted later, after a state judge ruled there was nothing wrong with Omer's long skirt and that security agents "intended to target" her.
While the 24 women and Omer managed to evade punishment, not all women are as fortunate in the Muslim-majority North African nation.
Sudan is increasingly handing out fines to women for wearing, what the government deems, "indecent clothing," such as tight skirts and trousers, according to a recent study. And the authorities are using these charges to extort money - in the form of fines - from women.
Those who fail to pay fines are subjected to flogging.
The Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA) and the Redress Trust have released a joint publication entitled "Criminalisation [sic] of Women in Sudan." The study focuses on how the country's controversial public order laws, designed to enforce morality, are being used by corrupt officials to threaten women with lashings to elicit money.
Sudan has a separate task force, known as the Public Order Police (POP), to enforce the so-called morality laws as per Sharia enshrined in law for Muslims.
Many women who are jailed and beaten, for "offenses" such as wearing trousers, belong to low-income backgrounds. Those who can afford, promptly pay the fine to avoid a lashing.
“There are economic incentives for maintaining this system because of the high fines, Carla Ferstman, a co-author of the study, told The Guardian. "It’s like in the UK you have traffic wardens walking around looking for drivers who have parked in the wrong spot. This is being done in the same way to fuel certain budgets.”
It is important to mention here that over 70% of all cases of public order involve women, according to a survey by Sajeenat, a group that advocates the rights of female prisoners in Sudan.
And it's not just about the money. The study further states the controversial laws are also used to target women the authorities wish to silence as well as a discriminatory tool against Christian women, who are not obligated to follow Sharia law.
Following her acquittal, Omer made a video in which she criticized Article 152 of the Sudanese Penal Code that allows for flogging of women for "indecent acts," such as wearing "immoral" or "indecent" clothing.
The U.S. Embassy in Khartoum also addressed Omer's arrest and called on the Sudanese government to protect basic human rights of its people.
Thumbnail Credits : Reuters