Reasons & Justifications Behind Society’s Acceptance of Violence against Women

Violence against women is one of the most important issues that concern any society in different ways. These differences manifest in the levels of acceptance and rejection of this type of violence, and the accompanying understanding. The awareness and understanding of the concept of violence and its different forms is one of the most important differentiators between accepting and rejecting of violence. In Sudanese society, despite the existence of laws and organizations that reject direct violence against women in its physical forms such as severe beatings, circumcision and others, there are still forms that are practiced and accepted.

The context of acute inequality in social, political and economic aspects has directly created a gap between the concept of violence and its forms. One of the most important factors that contributed to this large gap is the lack of data that illustrates the types of violence practiced in Sudanese societies, besides the raising of awareness that would have placed each form of violence in the correct position.

For example, female genital mutilation and under-age marriage are two of the main forms of violence practiced against Sudanese women. Awareness campaigns have led to a reduction in the practice of circumcision and marriage of minors. However, we still find marital rape and beating. Moreover, some laws are not taken into account by the awareness campaigns of social organizations, making them focus on specific violence forms and disregard others. All of this has led to the narrowing of the concept of violence into a small range, which includes what could be considered as the most violent and pervasive, but not the only ones. There are societies that do not practice the most battled forms, but they practice other types of violence, such as physical and verbal harassment and rape within the framework of marital or family relations. Even in some state laws and policies, there is still a disgrace that follows women in most of their practices. This allows the society to impose punishment on the pretext of customs and traditions that impose social stigma and potential exposure to violence in case the women taking any counter-step.

One of the most significant forms of violence practiced against women is the Public Law Order. Although it is a law that encourages violence against women, it finds acceptance from certain groups in society that are specifically practicing this type of domination in the form of “lashing” women in case they broke the traditions of these societies. This is one of the most important reasons that enable such laws to persist to this day. You may find individuals supporting these laws on the pretext of religious and social norms. Even women abide to gain society’s acceptance and integration, without risking rejection or living in fear of a violent response.

There are more than 20 Sudanese laws against women that are considered discriminatory both in the personal laws and criminal laws decrees. These laws are based on and empowered by the traditions, which are in themselves considered violence against women. This justifies the community’s support for such laws, and why the victims are exposed to a violent stigma if any of the customs are opposed. Within the scope of the family, we find that silence, non-reporting, or taking any actions against the violator is common for everything in the range of beating to marital rape. The lack of adequate awareness of all forms of violence and data limitations has led to the lack of identification of some practices as violence. The victim is perceived as an offender who is punished if they break customs and traditions. This also led women to accept some types of violence, for fear of social stigmatization. In some cases, emotional blackmail is carried out by the violator to make women more receptive to certain practices against them.

Sudanese law is unfair to women and is based on customs that are primarily against freedoms and encourage violence against women. The absence of a legal deterrent that protects women’s right and dignity has led to the persistence of such practices in Sudanese societies.


Harassment: a Man’s Perspective

I watched (most of) my friends hurl offensive comments out the car windows to passing women, and said nothing.

You often hear the receiving end of that kind of story, which can illustrate the hurt and humiliation that come with it and the mechanisms behind it. However, I think we need a different perspective. It’s important to note that while it wasn’t the first time I’ve seen verbal harassment happen, it was the first time I saw my own friends participate. Knowing them gave me the opportunity to observe and deconstruct harassment at its infancy. So I sat there, completely baffled by the power of groupthink as it took over my colleagues. Curiously, each one who joined was more uncomfortable than the last, and it got me wondering.

Why, exactly, does this happen?

It has since become clear that both individual and cultural elements contribute to the issue. Allow me to explain:

Firstly, individually, every man would seek out the approval of the group. How each one goes about it falls on a spectrum from predatory, malicious intent (a rare case), to simple herd survival tactics. This essentially means that the persons that start harassment acquire validation through others following their example, while the followers get it via making sure that they are not in the out-group. And so they fall like morally compromised dominoes under the gravity of implicit peer pressure. As for myself; well you could say I was the last piece in line with my silence.

Secondly, culturally/socially. Let’s imagine you have a precious little girl who you want to protect from the evils of this world. The first thing she’ll learn is to never stay out late. As a consequence of that, the second thing she’ll learn is how male and female groups are to be (mostly) separate. We all know the sorts of atrocities that happen under the veil of night, right? It’s only reasonable.

Not exactly. You see, by disallowing girls from roaming at night you’re not only giving advice, but you’re also giving a reason. On a large enough scale, it’s signaling to everyone that nights are male-exclusive. Whatever set of rules you apply is enforced and reinforced by both sexes, as the dynamic perpetuates itself. The effect is that if a woman is to ever find herself out there at night for whatever reason, she’s breaking the implied rules; therefore she knows what’s coming. That’s how it’s justified in some minds, using the same exact rhetoric that’s supposedly there to “protect women”.

The fact of the matter is: if you give specified spaces and times for predatory acts, predatory people will fill the area you’ve allowed them into. The issue at hand is both a self-fulfilling prophecy and a positive feedback loop. It’ll never expire on its own. Another contributing element is the separation of the sexes. That’s fertile ground for alienation, and when neither party can relate to the other it becomes hard to see them as humans. That sort of mutual alienation manifests itself as fear. It’s understandable in women, but in men, it becomes much more complex as a direct consequence of what “man” means in our society: a daring person. When our vernacular contains the word “Rajala” (derived from Rajil: man) that is quite literally used as a dare, it means that men trying to demonstrate fearlessness is a cultural truth. You see, every incident of verbal harassment always has a subtext that broadcasts: “Look, I’m brave, I’m daring”. This is a direct bleed out from the first element; seeking approval.

There’s a reason why countries with relative equality exhibit fewer harassment incidents. It’s the same reason why men who have deeper connections with women are less likely to harass. Just as insane as it would be to assume that a person would never in their lifetime need to go to a certain place at a certain time, it is even more so to think that the status quo would mitigate the problem it has created. Harassment -and violence against women as a whole- is an unfortunate   symptom of an even deeper dysfunction of our inherited social norms.

My advice? If we don’t want to keep a social environment is that almost designed to breed violence, we should raise boys and girls on equal grounds from the start. It’s just a thought.


AMNA’s Story

The world today is shaping a new platform for women to use their voices and be more aware of their rights; it is helping women reset boundaries and open up the uncomfortable conversation that was only discussed within communities of women. One of the biggest conversations happening worldwide is surrounding the #MeToo movement; a movement against sexual harassment and sexual assault of women. This movement has been a powerful message from women to step up and unite against sexual assault and to start a new era of equality. Sudanese women are not too far from this conversation.

Traditionally, well established organizations tackled empowerment issues, but we’re now also seeing youth initiatives created with a focus on specific women issues and capacity building. These youth initiatives are emboldened to confidently stand up for their rights, speak their truth and build communities in which they can work together to solve their problems and share their Ideas. AMNA is a youth run initiative that was established to support women and provide a safe place for them to share stories about sexual harassment and the backlash of going through such an experience. AMNA, which derives from the Arabic word meaning “it/she is safe” hosts talks to discuss women rights and feminism.

The organization was founded by Moneera Yaseen, a recent economics graduate, a women’s rights activist and a social entrepreneur. Moneera set about identifying ways to solve the hardships women – specifically young women – are experiencing. She explored different fields before she founded IECRC (Innovation and Entrepreneurship Community Research Chapter) to support entrepreneurs in Sudan. She represented Sudan at many summits including the Knowledge Summit in Dubai and Africa Summit in Morocco. Moneera also spent 5 weeks studying social entrepreneurship at California State University. She is an Alumnus of UNDP’s Youth Leadership Program and a Fellow at Stanford University with AMENDS (American Middle Eastern Network for Dialogue). Moneera is a mentor with the YLP network in the Arab region. To understand the role of AMNA and the various programs it is running we had a chat with its founder, Moneera Yaseen.

Andariya: What was the inspiration for founding AMNA?

Moneera Yaseen: During the UN Women’s 16 days campaign to end violence against women in 2017 I used Saraha (an anonymous messaging website) to ask women on social media platforms about their experience with violence. When I shared their stories, I got attacked by people questioning the credibility of these stories. At that moment I understood that gender inequality is not just a behavioral issue, it’s an epidemic which will eventually affect the development of the country. For that reason I founded AMNA.

At AMNA, we challenge and aim to change thinking, actions and policies that contribute to violence against women and gender inequality. Using innovative and engaging tools, we try to address and change the attitudes that make violence against women possible. That means building the capacity of communities to respond to gender-based violence in the local context. It also means empowering women and girls through education, health and livelihoods opportunities. We plan on supporting women to speak up for their rights. And crucially, it means engaging men and boys to break the cycle of violence.

AMNA means safe in Arabic, and it’s also a female name. I have created a personality around the initiative, AMNA represents any Sudanese girl who has faced violence; and our goal is to make any Sudanese girl

AMNA or “safe”. As an abstract for hope, AMNA’s logo is a phoenix drawn as the name Amna in Arabic alphabets. We chose the phoenix as our symbol because it resembles the female strength, and her endurance, for every difficulty, violence, and aggression that caused her pain and burned her insides she should realize -as the glorious phoenix- that she’ll rise stronger than ever.

Andariya: What are some of the major issues AMNA is tackling?

Moneera Yaseen: I believe gender inequality is a critical and growing issue which our world is experiencing. Gender inequality is not a mainstream issue as today’s media portrays it; all the propaganda which our media is creating around gender inequality, has blinded communities to look at the issue as it is. I was born in a community where you would face discrimination based on your gender, sexual orientation or your beliefs and ideas. Being a woman is one of the hardest things in such communities. Since the first day in your life you will face all types of violence, from female genital mutilation (FGM), child marriage, economic exploitation etc.. I was fortunate enough to be born in a supportive family that succeeded in shaping me into a strong woman, but things aren’t the same outside my home; I face violence and discrimination in the streets, work place, school and almost everywhere I go. This has inspired me to take part in the 2017 UN Women’s 16 days campaign and from there it all began.

Andariya: What are AMNA’s core activities and achievements to date?

Moneera Yaseen: We work on raising awareness about the danger of VAW (Violence against Women) and highlight the existence of this issue in our community. We conduct researches to collect data about Sudan, organizing workshops to train youth on how to advocate against VAW. Our goal is to raise awareness about the issue of VAW among young people and to make young people advocators against VAW.

I have designed innovative and interactive awareness training, which is more attractive and engaging for young people, instead of the lecture-style trainings. The training sessions were designed to engage men and women in a conversation about the existence of the issues in our community. Then the training introduces trainees to the tools of advocacy to make them aware that acknowledging the existence of the issue is not enough on its own; we need to stand up and take actions. In order for them to take the right actions, we train young people on design thinking. Through the four steps of design thinking we help them develop initiatives and ideas to advocate against VAW. Also, we reach out to young people in universities through hosting what we call “Gaa’dat” or chat sessions, where we host baking sales and bring a musician or band. Through the chats we start a conversation inside the universities on VAW.

In addition, AMNA is considered a social enterprise; it’s a self-sustained organization where we generate income from each activity we host to guarantee the sustainability of our work. For example we take a small amount of money as registration fee at the advocacy workshop, and young people pay to have the training on design thinking. We take the income generated from the workshop and direct it to organize the next workshop and so on.

Andariya: Who are your biggest supporters?

Moneera Yaseen: AMNA wouldn’t be here without the support of young women and men, who dedicated their time and effort to make this a reality. I remember getting dozens of messages on Facebook from people who believed in the issue and empathized with each and every single story I have shared. It was astonishing how storytelling can move us from the inside and motivate us to lead change. I also want to mention my family who were very supportive, they sponsored the first workshop when we started with a zero budget, My Mum Nadia, Dad Hussien, my Aunts Rasha and Jamila and my grandmother Hayat. They all contributed financially and effectively to help us in organizing the first advocacy workshop.

One important aspect that drives our work is the AMNA community. We believe in creating a community around the issue of Violence against Women, because it’s an important issue that requires solidarity, standing up and advocacy. We believe that the more people who believe that women shouldn’t be facing violence in our community, the less women will face it.

Follow Andariya on Twitter to keep up with their activities.