And What About Tea Sellers? An Interview With Amoona Amin AbdelJalil

Workers belonging to the informal sector in Sudan are generally considered to be subject to economic hardships, as they rely on daily income, and don’t entertain state protection rights, due to not being officially affiliated to a certain institution. Tea ladies, being both women, and women from the working class, are from the ones mostly affected amid the political turmoil, a deteriorating economic situation, and a worldwide health crisis. Already marginalized populations are the ones who are disproportionately more harmed by the COVID-19 outbreak, and that includes tea ladies in Sudan.

AMNA interviewed a Tea lady to get insights on how this outbreak had affected her personally, in this interview, she shares with you how her livelihood has been affected, as well as how she’s been coping so far.

Please tell us a bit about yourself, and what you do?

“ My name is Amoona Amin AbdelJalil, I’m 36 years old, and I live in Alushara. I’m a widower, with 5 kids, and also bearing the responsibility of two of my nephews, my brother and my mum. In total, I’m the breadwinner for 10 people.

I work as a tea-seller in front of a grocery store within our neighbourhood in Alushara, I usually work during the evening from after sunset till midnight, however the current changes have affected my workflow. My work and income rely on god’s will, it’s very unsteady, I don’t have regular customers, I sometimes have ones from the neighbourhood, sometimes from far places, I never know. My income itself is very unsteady, it can sometimes suffice to meet my basic needs, but sometimes not. The main challenge I face as a tea seller is the inflating prices of the ingredients I need, a kilogram of sugar costs 80 SDG today, but 150 SDG tomorrow”.

Are you a member of any informal women workers union/cooperative?

“I’m not  at all participating in such a body, I don’t know anything about them and what they do”.

What do you know about Coronavirus, and how did you obtain this information?

“I know it has first been sparked in China, the symptoms are cough, headache, sore throat and fever, this is what we’ve heard, is it right?

We heard about the preventative measures and regulations from the TV and radio channels, we became adamant to stay clean 24/7”.

Were you able to apply the instructions you learnt to protect yourself from the virus?

“One should have a clean heart before anything…. I make sure to keep my hands clean while working but I can’t avoid gatherings by not going out. How can I not go out? My kids will not even have water to drink and food to eat. If we’re provided with food, we’ll stay home, might as well have some rest, I have kids that I’m both a mother and father for. Our workspace is not safe, we engage with all kinds of people and we don’t know who’s infected and who isn’t. However, the numbers have decreased with the current events”.

How has the curfew policy affected your workflow?

“My working hours have been affected of course by the curfew, my time is now more limited, and I can’t work at night where I get more customers. The work is not enough these days”.

Do you think there are certain groups within the informal sector, who might be affected more or less by this COVID-19 situation?

“I’m not sure but I think there are other women in the informal sector who might be more affected by the COVID-19 events. Some families have a man or husband who also provides, and in other cases the responsibility falls upon the woman only, I ‘ve only experienced this after becoming a widower.

In general all workers depending on daily income have their livelihoods deteriorated, contrary to people who still receive wages”.

How have you adapted to this new situation?

“ Well, I have only shifted my working hours to the morning, and of course the prices had to be increased due to the decrease in customers”.

Since the rising of those events, have you received any kind of support to help ease your situation?

“We have not received any kind of support in our area, from the government or civil society organizations. We have only interacted with our resistance committee, who led us through the prevention measures guidelines, but have not provided us with any sanitizers, gloves or face masks, they only did the talking”.

Government and civil society- What can they provide?

“We only care about the basic food supplies, we don’t want anything else, especially that Ramadan is coming close”.

Is there a final message you would like to direct towards the society, and anything else you would like to add?

“I would just like to say that we only want to secure our livelihood, and that’s all that we need. I thank you for the opportunity to let me speak”.


So, What About The Women’s Cooperatives Union? An Interview With Yousria Mohammed Zakaria

According to the UN women 2018 report, women constitute over 80% of the informal labour in Sudan. Women in the informal sector in Sudan constitute a very huge segment of society, and are considered to be marginalized, due to their inaccessibility to social services, primarily, and among other factors associated with their activity nature, as well as factors relating to their identities, such as gender, race and ethnicity. 

With the Sudanese Government’s recent announcement of commencing a 3-weeks 24-hour lock-down, AMNA conducted an interview with one of the leading individuals working in preserving and protecting the rights of women in the informal sector. She provides us with a comprehensive review of their general status, her personal experience with community-based associations that represent informal workers, and a run through the COVID-19 situation in relation to informal women workers, whether they be tea sellers, food sellers or owners of unorganized businesses.

Kindly note: Throughout this interview the terms “informal” and “unorganized” sectors are used interchangeably, to refer to workers who are part of the informal economy

Introduction: (Name, age, address, occupation, social status, nature of work)

“My name is Yousria Mohammed Zakaria, I’m 32 years old, I live in Khartoum State, Locality of Jabal Awliyaa, Mayo. I’m married, I work as a cook on social occasions, and I’m the head of the Dalo Development association (one of the daughter associations of the Women’s cooperatives union).”

Tell us more about the work the Women’s cooperatives union carries out, and your role within it?

“ The cooperatives union has been established a long time ago, but the associations in the union only got activated earlier in 2013. 13 associations were formed in the union, and today there are 26 associations part of the union. Dalo is one of the daughter associations of the union, it has been initiated due to the assistance provided by the USAID, We developed our proposal to establish the center and were successful to have a permanent headquarter called “Dome”. Dome is an eco-friendly institution, different parties contributed in its development, those including University of Khartoum, grassroots Engineers from Darfur, as well as the women residents of Mayo themselves. They took part in the primary construction of the building, lifting cement, and mixing building materials.

With regards to our association, I was assigned as it’s head in 2014. Currently, the association owns a working space, a windmill, furnaces, but we only lack the financial support. In order for us to properly operate and utilize those assets, we have faced several challenges, primarily from the residents of the area themselves, in addition to the unavailability of specialized personnel, as well as the financial matter, which plays a great role. The association today holds a training program, we equip women with skills such as sewing, embroidering, preparing pastries and baked meals, in addition to hand-manufactured materials, such as vases, wallets, footwear for men and women, bags and accessories. Our association’s activity is not restricted to the periphery of Mayo, we hold those training programs in different areas in Omdurman and Khartoum, including Alkalakla, Alsalama and Abo Adam. Holding the position of the head, I’m directly involved in the planning and organization of those activities, I also work closely and supervise the media campaigns manager, who’s responsible for gaining publicity for our events. The way we usually attain this publicity is through offline means, such as reaching out to the resistance committees of the designated areas. We try to understand their needs better, communicate to them our goals, what we’re capable of providing and how that could be of benefit. I’m present almost daily, since I’m also one of the handicrafts trainers.’

How do you think the union has eased the situation for informal workers?

“In the past, we only worked in the sectors of food and tea making, it was known that our options were either this or that. The cooperatives union contributed in breaking that stereotype, and young girls started mastering skills such as carpentry and blacksmithing, those are things our grandmothers didn’t engage in. This was one of the initial activities the union conducted, with the contribution made by SIHA initiative. 

Dalo is based in Mayo, which is not only a densely populated area, but an area inhabited by people internally displaced due to conflict, as well as people facing life and economic hardships. Those segments generally reside in Mayo because there, one house can contain 6 families, we tried to gather the residents of this area in one place in order to provide some sort of aid for them through the union and its daughter associations. Since a lot of those women work in tea selling during the day, we helped them to work on designing and selling wallets in the evening, thus securing a second source of income. They even started teaching their kids the wallets work, as it’s easy to learn. 

Our association also supports homeless children, we usually find them in the market, and it’s a revelation to them when one of the Dalo workers approaches them, teaches them how to clean and tidy themselves, provides them with a clean nutritional meal, a safe place to sleep as well as teach them a skill through which they can receive financial returns.

As mentioned, the association works on tea and food making, in addition to different kinds of skills training. The reason why we started providing the training is to break the norm of the nature of work our members perform, as well as to widen their options in generating income. Whoever wants to work on tea and food can do so, and those who don’t work at all are enrolled in the training program. Even the women who retire and can no longer do long hours of food and tea making, are encouraged to join the training program, where they can work on whatever activity that is feasible for them.

In our association’s headquarters, we have a working space where design, sewing and décor activities take place, providing sources of income for the association’s members. We also have furnaces, which we used to provide bread for women in the previous crisis, we made sure that any woman who approaches us has enough bread to feed her children. But at the time, the flour’s prices weren’t as inflated as they are now, therefore, we are currently unable to provide this sort of service, due to the unavailability of subsidized flour. Another activity we carry out is that in Eid, all our members get to prepare their baked items in the association, no one bothers to look for bakeries outside.

Being part of the association requires you to cover monthly membership fees, and by the end of the year we find out the annual amount collected through these fees. We use the amount to provide support for our members during the Holy month of Ramadan, after undergoing legal auditing for our documents, we decide how the money will be distributed. This process is primarily reliant on the circumstances our members face, we allocate amounts for those with health conditions, those in a maternity period, those who have lost a family member, those who need to travel for emergency purposes, or those who weren’t able to work due to a reason or another.

With regards to food supplies or goods in general, we sometimes receive aid from donors, and under those situations we equally divide the supplies between us, while prioritizing orphans, widows and members with especially challenging economic conditions. If we get excess supplies, we usually give them out to the people in need within Mayo.

During the period when the former regime ruled, women informal workers thought about establishing small associations and bodies within the areas that they work in, in order to protect themselves from the raids government-led forces carried out. In that way, if 3 or 4 women are working using the same boiler for example, and word spreads that there’s a raid, they can more easily transfer the information and gather their belongings before  risking them being confiscated or damaged.

When it comes to the issue of insurance, we as an association are registered within the women’s cooperatives union for food and tea sellers. When the idea of securing health insurance for the members of the union came into discussion, I, along with a group of people were responsible for supervising this process. We paid a visit for the ministry of social welfare, and discussed how the informal workers were a marginalized social category when it comes to health insurance and other social services. We came to an agreement that the health insurance will be granted for the members of the union, in addition to the women informal worker getting registered as the breadwinner of the family, allowing her to secure the insurance for her husband and children. Subhanallah the idea was appealing to the present parties, and we were able to settle the insurance issue under the condition requested. This was something we were deprived from in our sector, today, we are able to access insured health services if we or our loved ones face a relevant circumstance.

It’s important to mention that this insurance is government-supported and was released officially under the name of the Women’s cooperative union.

Do you think the union has enough reach out i.e how many women are there in the union and from how many sectors within the informal sector, how do people become part of it, and how do you make sure people from different geographical locations are members.

The union is inclusive of any area within Khartoum state, and each neighborhood has its own independent association. Two years ago, the union’s membership for tea and food sellers consisted of 26,000 members. This is only in Khartoum, besides the other states, where we’re currently coordinating the process of extending the union’s activity and have well-established associations in the rest of the states.

The associations are distributed over Khartoum State, on a locality based arrangement, in each locality, there’s more than 10-15 associations. They form a mother association for their locality, and then daughter associations are formed and become part of the union as a whole. Local and international organizations helped in establishing official headquarters for those locality-based mother associations, you’ll find fixed headquarters for the union’s associations in Omdurman, Haj Yousif, Souq Sha’abi, and our own Dalo Association headquarter in Mayo.

The membership process in the union happens in two ways. Some women hear about the union as a body which provides protection, and so they approach us, telling us what they do and where they work. According to their geographical location, their contact and National ID information is taken to complete the registration, she’s then obliged to cover a membership fee and follows up with the union’s activities through regular meetings.

The second way the membership happens is that we ourselves encounter informal workers in different areas, we approach them and introduce the union, and the kind of services it provides for members. In most cases, women agree to join us seamlessly as they’re in a position where they’ve had a fair share of suffering due to the nature of this sector.

However, our members still suffer from the problem of having official identification documents. Under the former regime’s rule, a lot of women, myself included, used to maneuver this situation of ID information by resorting to our tribes’ mayor. In that way, if I don’t have parents, siblings or any indicated family members, I am able to produce my National ID number using the name of my tribe. After the fall of El-Bashir, we got the opportunity to communicate this concern to the ministry of social welfare, and are currently planning to implement measures that ensure all members of the union have legitimate ID documents.

Describe how the deteriorating economic situation has affected the work and income of informal workers.

“We have a principle that we at the union all abide by, which is quality in the service that we provide. Because we’re adamant to keep our quality intact, our customers do not complain when we slightly increase our prices, aligning with the increase in the prices of our supplies. That way, we rest assured that our customers are secured, and we only increase our prices in a moderate way.”

Being engaged with informal female workers, do you think they have enough awareness regarding coronavirus, and if yes, how do they usually obtain such information?

“I can rate the degree of awareness to be relatively good, and the way they understand and are most receptive to information is through direct field awareness.

What we did is that we delegated members in different areas to transfer the information to the women there. Those focal points also formed sub-groups of grassroots level women who communicate the information about the virus to the other members in their own environment and in their own language. Despite the existence of awareness campaigns through other media outlets like national television, those women are unresponsive to this kind of communication, as some of them are not even Arabic-speakers or are not able to read written content. By directly conveying the message, they understand more clearly and are able to spread the information even more in their own circles and using their local languages. The information they have might be enough, but the supplies they receive to apply the information is not enough. Two years ago the union had 26,000 members, but today we have over 43,000 members, only residing in Khartoum.

We have a large batch from the union who are part of neighborhood committees and worked in awareness through those bodies.”

Do you think women in the informal sector were able to effectively apply this information, how, and why?

“With regards to self-protection, they’re only now starting to follow the health precautions and instructions. Upon receiving the information, they were determined to protect themselves, however, their life hardships pressured them to act otherwise. They’re aware the virus could be a dangerous disease, but they’re also aware that if they don’t work, their kids might starve.

On the other hand, there are numbers of them who were able to implement safety measures in their work environment. This is evident in how they stopped handshaking, and were able to maintain social distancing between them and their customers, as well as organizing a seating arrangement for customers that ensures they’re at considerable distances from each other. They were also effective in being sanitary, you’ll find that tea-sellers use a sanitizer throughout their working day, every time they’re in direct contact with a possibly infected surface. Although this is good news, the availability of sanitizers that are distributed is scarce, which means not all workers have the accessibility for those kinds of supplies.”

How is the current curfew policy affecting the work of females in the informal sector?

“By referring to the informal workers in the cooperatives union and Dalo Association, our work has been greatly affected by the COVID-19 situation. Those women who work in tea and food, used to provide services for places where social occasions take place such as clubs, or work institutions, all who’s operation had halted due to this situation. This created huge instability in their ability to provide for their families, in most cases they do not even have an amount that enables them to sustain themselves for a week long period. 

Additionally, a lot of those tea-sellers work two shifts, day and night, so when the 6 pm curfew was imposed, the mostly affected ones were the ones who worked in the night shifts. But in the union we developed what we call the “security box”, what happens is that if one has two shifts during the day, she gives up one of them for her colleague who usually works at night. In that way, we are able to support each other, as we’re aware of each other’s circumstances.

Nevertheless, even during the day’s shift tea sellers have witnessed a great decline in the number of customers they receive, due to the public’s adherence to safety measures advising against gathering spots/areas.

Part of why this is specifically aggravating for those women, is the kind of family structures that they’re part of, a lot of them say that it’s been 10 or 14 years since they’ve last seen their husbands, some of them are raising their children as widows, and others don’t even have children but bear the responsibility for children from their extended families. This tells you that one working day holds great significance for them, since they are the income generators in the family, I constantly listen to them saying that if we find the support we need, we’ll stop working, and we’ll stop for the next 3 weeks 24-hour lock-down even if we don’t find the support.

The union recently received a letter from sovereign council member Miss Aisha Musa, requesting that we formulate a certain number for the informal workers in the union, in order for the government to allocate financial amounts, as well as food supplies for them.”

Explain to us, whether you think some informal workers are affected more or less by this situation, and explain why.

“There are some women whose work is more expanded, those who work in tea-selling for an example, in addition to a second profitable activity. This gives them some kind of advantage over others who rely solely on tea-selling for example, they purchase their food items per day, and provide allowances for their kids per day as well. However, this supposedly advantaged group who have second sources of income constitute only 2000 or less out of 43,000 women in the union.

How do you think female informal workers have adapted with this situation?

“The first step in adapting with the situation was truly comprehending that this is indeed a dangerous disease, and that carrying out our normal flow of work can jeopardize both our lives and those of our loved ones.Secondly, the Women’s Cooperatives union was able to take measures that serve the members with the most challenging circumstances. They were able to allocate amounts for women who suffered from health conditions or were financially responsible for people with those kinds of conditions. We are currently seeking solutions and parties who can provide our basic essentials, most importantly healthcare needs, i.e. medicinal supplies.

In collaboration with the ministry of social welfare, we have provided them with the necessary National ID documents and prescriptions for the women in need, we are still waiting for the aid they promised, for both the food and medicinal supplies.

What has the union or co-operative that you’re part of contributed in helping the informal workers amid this pandemic?

“We worked on direct awareness with Miss Awadia Koko a month ago, we reached around 10,000 women and were able to distribute a good number of sanitizers, due to the financial assistance we received from Haggar Foundation. Those 10,000 are besides the members of the union, who have also been exposed to the health precautions instructions and were supplied with sanitizers.

Our efforts and supplies still remain insufficient in comparison with the magnitude of women this sector contains, the amount that we were able to get hold of for general supplies aid summed to 100,000 SDG, which was mostly prioritized for medicinal supplies, and still ran short to the actual need the women have. We were promised to receive mitigation food supplies that we can disperse in the union  by the ministry of social welfare, but so far nothing has happened. The situation is very challenging, every day, I get more than 500 women knocking on my door telling me how the situation is harder, now that they’re not working, and inquiring about the delivery of the promised supplies. They help each other out by sharing meals and what so, but their livelihood has deteriorated to an extent that you can never imagine.”

Do you know of any other stakeholders that have provided any kind of support for the female informal sector during this pandemic? If yes, who are they and how did they help them?

“I know of Qatar foundation, and of course, Miss Awadia Koko is quick to report all issues relevant to informal workers to higher authorities, like she did with the sovereign council. We received help from Haggar foundation when the coronavirus initially broke, and I’m also aware that Tetal soap company worked on awareness and the provision of washing soap for informal female workers.”

Currently, how do you think civil society or the government can help ease the situation for informal workers in Sudan amid the current events?

“There’s only two things, we’re a very huge social segment, and we’re in major need for food supplies. Merely getting the food supplies can relieve a lot of difficulties we face.”

What message would you like to send to society, and is there anything else you would like to add.

“I would firstly like to say that the women’s cooperatives union was going to be dissolved under the new government’s measures to dissolve such bodies. However, a letter was sent from the council of ministers requesting that the union gets excluded from this activity, as we constitute a very large segment from the society. They were also planning to establish a new governing committee, but Ostaza Awadia remained in position, due to us being a non-politically affiliated body. One of the basic principles the body stands for, is that it remains a politically neutral body, that doesn’t discriminate according to any kind of criteria, whether it be religion, race or political affiliation. As a member of the union you are free to exercise your own political activities, but in an independent manner.

I would also like to direct a message to any tea or food seller or any unorganized business owner, that you need to take into consideration your safety and your family’s safety. Stay aware that if you leave the house amid this pandemic, how many people you’re losing behind, you’re losing yourself, your children, your community and everyone in your environment. You’re viable to inflict harm in anywhere you go. Remember God, The Almighty is capable of making our lives easier, God says in Quran

“(51:56) And I did not create the jinn and mankind except to worship Me”.


If we stay home and pray, our sustenance will find it’s way to us, 3 weeks isn’t a lot, we were patient for more than 30 years, were patient during the sit-in in front of the military HQ, all we have to do now is to stay home and patient.”


Women in Politics, Peace-building and Good Governance

In December 2019, and in response to the initiation of the transitional period in Sudan, AMNA launched its first peace-building community program. The program, titled (Women in Politics, Peace-building and Good Governance), is a response to the growing need for Sudanese women to be involved in these areas. The program has the aim to be recurrent during the transitional period, with the aim of increasing the number of people voting for the interest of women in Sudan’s next democratic elections.

Sudanese women have been the subject to widespread violations in the political, social, economic spheres, under the dictatorship of the past regime. And while they were at the front lines in the December revolution, which successfully ousted the government rule, women were still not granted fair representation in the post-revolution political procedures, peace-building negotiations, as well as the transitional period governing bodies.

This program aimed to highlight those violations that women faced, particularly the situation of women in conflict zones, in Darfur, Blue Nile State and The Nuba Mountains. The content was focused to bring attention to the crucial role women play in conflict and aggravated conditions they are exposed to, in comparison to being neglected in post-conflict settings. By denying them the right to speak for their issues and have designated seats in  political, peace-building and governance processes, those violations that they underwent during conflict, risk going unnoticed and unaccounted for.

This was explicitly important in the light of signifying our citizenship duty of voting, and how women’s interests should constitute a major concern in the kind of decision we will make in the upcoming national elections. In order for AMNA to deliver this message in the best means possible, within the course of 8 weeks, notions of gender, conflict, women’s situation in conflict and post-conflict settings, as well as women’s political participation were deeply looked into and discussed. By directly interacting with 30 individuals, aged 16-35, who included young girls and boys, as well as men and women from the youth, we were able to create a learning and free dialogue environment.

AMNA ensured cultural diversity in the participants to guarantee a more enriching experience for everyone in the program. This included participants who have lived in conflict zones or experienced events of political unrest. Their participation allowed valuable insights to be provided to the shared content, and conveyed a firsthand image of the events we were attempting to narrate about women.

The WPPG program, which was funded by The Canadian Embassy, was very significant in the area of community mobilization, as not only were the participants exposed to a wide range of topics, but they also had the opportunity to carry out independent awareness graduation projects! Teams of 3 were formed and each team tackled a specific perspective in women’s stance politically, in peace-building processes or on how their representation contributes to good governance. Please find attached the link to the full report which includes all sessions and activities, stay tuned to apply for our upcoming batch of the program!



Extortion, Sextortion & Blackmail: The Differences

The digital world today is the dominant means of communication used by people in different places, while this has been great in narrowing distances and facilitating day to day activities, it has also provided a fertile soil for hostile acts/ behaviours to prosper. Online violence varies in its forms and manifestations, however, in this piece I would like to address and explain three of the most pervasive attitudes that are currently trending on social media platforms. Those being blackmailing, extortion and sextortion. 

Blackmailing and extortion are always mistaken for being synonymous, thus used interchangeably and this could not be further from the truth. For starters, extortion refers to the form of theft that occurs when an offender obtains money, property, or services from another person through coercion; and “coercion” ranges from physical assault to verbal threats of future harm. To further contextualize this act, let’s look into extortion that targets women, on both online and offline platforms. These acts are often ascribed to the power imbalance that society constructs between men and women. This provides even more methods of intimidation that an offender can use against a victim. 

On the other hand, blackmailing can be defined as an act of coercion using the threat of revealing or publicizing either substantially true or false information about a person or people unless certain demands are met. This information will most probably be damaging information that can incriminate or defame the victim of blackmail, bearing in mind that most forms of blackmail are performed using non-physical means. This gets us to put a line between extortion and blackmailing, the fine difference lies within the concept of “revealing information”, as a form of threat used against victims to obtain things against their volition. We can, therefore, say that blackmailing is a form of extortion that possesses a narrower way of posing a threat. Again, we can not help but wonder why women and girls are significantly  more vulnerable to these kinds of violations? My guess would be that the notion of “honor” is the driving force behind making women particularly vulnerable to such infringements and also it is the force behind not only perpetuating the behaviour but also providing safeguards to the perpetrators. 

The significance of “honour” in this context stems from the fact that socially, the responsibility of upholding a family’s honour “Sharaf” is inherently linked to how the women in that family carry themselves and lead their lives. Placing this undue burden on women automatically makes it the woman’s responsibility to protect and preserve her family’s reputation and social status and thereby in the event that any of those things are endangered she is the first and only person to blame. This gives us an insight into why women are particularly vulnerable to falling prey to these vile transgressions. When the perpetrator realizes that his acts of aggression mean very little when honour is involved, hence the blame automatically gets laid on the woman, the offender will not only be encouraged to persist in carrying out these acts but will also have very little reason to refrain from committing such violation since no form of deterrence s in place to stop them. Furthermore, because of the big role “honour” plays in this crime, it becomes a one-sided rapport in which the victim plays no part and bears all the blame and consequences. The influence of “honour” is not limited to making women vulnerable to falling victims of such vile crimes but it extends to weakening their ability to defend themselves and get the retribution they deserve. In conservative communities when a woman falls victim to such acts, she is instantly demonized and stripped off the benefit of the doubt as well as any right to defend herself and tell her part of the story. This victim blaming dynamic that takes over once a woman’s private life is exposed further encourages perpetrators to not only indulge in such behaviour but to also go as far as fabricating stories about their victims just to extort them knowing that they would not face any form of repercussions. 

Lastly, there’s sextortion, it is defined as a form of revenge porn that employs non-physical forms of coercion to extort sexual favours from the victim. The first use of the term sextortion arose in the early 1950s in the state of California. Since then, it has become an extremely popular crime and means of online harassment due to advances in technology and social media platforms. Here, we can break it down by stating that the benefit the offender is aiming for, is a sexual favour. It mostly stems from two aspects, abuse of power and sexual exploitation. Abuse of power can be exemplified when the offender has some sort of power over the victim and thus, takes advantage of that by making the victim oblige to their demands. Sexual exploitation is when the offender threatens to disclose private or intimate material of the victim if not meeting their demands. This mostly happens to women and in a lot of cases from their past intimate partners, it reiterates the idea of honour and how the victim will be quick to oblige in fear of having that kind of material disclosed. What aggravates the act of sextortion is that it’s self-sustained, if a victim of sextortion surrenders to performing a sexual favour, on a regular basis or even once, the offender will be keen to use that as a way to maintain the sextortionary acts by threatening to disclose that the victim engaged in that kind of activity with them.

And then we can conclude by stating that “it is crucial for the victim to educate themselves about these terms and know the nuances of each notion. Knowing the nature of the threat is the first step to defending oneself and getting the justice deserved. However, the burden of combating these extremely harmful phenomen does not fall on the shoulders of the victims alone but rather on all of us, members of society. We need to acknowledge that the sacred beliefs that we hold so dearly can at some times be harmful to a large group of us and that at times we need to be flexible and open to re-evaluate the tenets that underlie our actions. It is on us as a society to help and protect our victims and not shut them and silence them with shame and stigmatization. It is on us to punish the real offender instead of encouraging him with blaming the victim”


What Happens When You Confront the Harasser?

You may be looked at as a person who lost their senses, you may be looked at as a shame, you may go through it alone and some might stand with you. All of these are assumptions, but what truly happened with Qabas?

The beginning: harassment in the street

Qabas Omer Abdulrahim and her sister Shahd were walking in a public street last May. They were going home near the central market south of Khartoum. It started with a young man following them while they were going to the bus stop. He first harassed them verbally and then started uttering sexual innuendos and commenting on their body shapes. When Qabas confronted him and decided to stop him, he protested and pretended to speak on the phone. The young ladies kept ignoring him as they considered it something that happens every day for ladies in public.

Things escalated after Qabas and her sister rode the bus, as the harasser came back and continued harassing them verbally in a filthy and consistent way in front of the people who were in the scene. None of the other passengers tried to intervene and stop the harasser to aid Qabas and her sister. Recalling that moment Qabas said “I felt embarrassed and humiliated by his behavior, at that moment I decided to end it and I got off the bus and started clashing with him. My sister joined me and another girl we don’t know also did the same and tried to prevent the harasser from attacking me. None of the people around us, not men or women, tried to stop it at the beginning. Until the harasser hit me and I blacked out for seconds, because he hit me very hard.

Throughout the situation, the other girl still tried to keep the harasser away from me and defended me”. That girl stood with Qabas and Shahd and didn’t give up on them. The audience preferred to end the situation and advised Qabas to get away from the scene.

Qabas and Shahd and the third girl went to take the bus again. Qabas was sitting on a seat near the window and the harasser came back again and started to provoke her. At that point Qabas told her sister Shahd to call the police, but couldn’t convince the people around to catch the harasser until the police came. One of them explained that it doesn’t affect him if they catch the harasser or not and another one told her to ignore the entire situation and never confront the culprit again. Qabas insisted on confronting the harasser and handing him to the police. When the harasser noticed the mention of the police, he started to move and went to Al-Sahafa neighborhood, but Qabas and Shahd followed him and told the guys in the neighborhood to catch him for harassing them. The young men caught him as he tried to run away and handed him to the police force which arrived in ten minutes.

The Trial of the Harasser

The police went to Al-sahafa police station and Qabas was asked to go to Ibrahim Malik hospital to get a medical document for the legal proceedings. A case was opened under Article 142 and later there were charges added under the Articles 151-1 (harassment) and 160 (abuse). A few days later, Qabas was told there will be a trial on the same day and the first hearing will be on Thursday of that week. The trial was delayed to Sunday as the management of the prison was not told 48 hours before the trial so they could not move the prisoner in time for the trial. On Sunday, all statements were heard and the court decided that the harasser would spend six months in jail and was charged with flogging 75 times and a 1000 Sudanese Pound fine, plus an additional 3 months in jail in case he did not pay the fine.

The Criminal Code for Harassment in the Sudanese Law

Article 151-1 in the criminal Sudanese law for the year 1991 goes as follows: “the person who commits a scandal is the one who does something unacceptable to someone else or does any type of sexual behavior which doesn’t reach to the level of sex , he/she will be punished with flogging 40 times maximum and it is allowed to put him/her in jail for no more than one year or a fine should be paid”. Article 151-2 “if the crime of the scandal was committed in a public place without the willingness of the victim it shall be punished with flogging not more than 80 times and it is allowed to put him in prison for no more than 2 years”. Article 151 was edited by adding a third item to it that says “the sexual harasser is the person who does or says or behaves in a certain way that seduces another person for an illegal act of sex, or comes with an unacceptable behavior or indecency that gives sexual hints which leads to harm the victim emotionally or gives him/her a feeling of insecurity, he/she shall be charged not more than 3 years in jail and shall be given a number of flogging”.


Qabas concludes: “I had to confront the harasser as I felt helpless from his behavior and his boldness and the fact the he will harass more girls, and people didn’t move to support us. The main reason why I am publishing my story is that I hope it will be an inspiration for other girls like me who were harassed in the most hideous ways. Not many of them can take their right because they are afraid of how the society will look at them or maybe they doubt the Sudanese judicial system”.


Obstetric Violence

“By slapping their laps, the patient will know that you truly care for her”

From a qualitative study on social norms and acceptability of the mistreatment of women during childbirth in Abuja, Nigeria.

For many women childbirth is a period associated with suffering, pain, humiliation, violation and even death. Yes, women get violated in labor rooms. It might be appalling, but it is happening. Obstetric violence is one of the various types of Violence against Women (VAW). Women in childbirth can be subjected to various types of violence, such as disrespect, verbal insults, and physical violence, discrimination based on race, socioeconomic status, age and others. Forced medical procedures (such as unnecessary caesarean section, episiotomy or vaginal examination) or detention in facilities for failure to pay, are forms of obstetric violence. Unfortunately, it is a neglected type of Violence against Women, and lack of information and awareness about the issue complicates it more and makes it harder to prevent and eradicate it.

Obstetric violence is an intersection between various factors. Social norms play an important role in the acceptance of Violence against Women, and usually women remain silent about the violence they face in hospitals because they consider it “normal”. This is because of the stereotype of how midwives are rude and violent, and getting screamed at or beaten by a midwife is normal and no one usually talks about it. In addition, women are ignorant about their rights as patients. On the other hand, women’s silence about their experiences and ignorance about their rights gives the medical staff, specially the midwives the chance to be abusive.

Similarly, women’s passive acceptance of mistreatment and violence by the health workers, may be amplified by the social norms in patriarchal societies i.e. women’s obedience of men in patriarchal societies may also influence their perceptions about their interactions with other people who are considered “superior” to them, such as health care providers, even if the provider was a female. And let us not forget that some doctors and other health care providers work in bad environments and overcrowded hospitals, with insufficient staff and this affects the patient-doctor relationship, where the doctor is not able to provide the patient with the care and the treatment they need.

Non-Governmental Organizations and initiatives should work on advocating, raising awareness, encouraging and promoting actions towards awareness and action within the society. Action upon obstetric violence should be according to the circumstances, taking into account local, cultural, religious and legal frameworks. NGOs and initiatives should also include, promote and raise awareness about sexual and reproductive health rights within schools, especially among young girls exposed to higher risks of early marriages. Raising awareness about obstetric violence and making it more noticeable is important to end it as one of the forms of Violence against Women. Understanding the underlying causes of obstetric violence is also essential to eradicating it from the roots.


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.


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.

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