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”


Online VAW

What is the first thought that crosses your mind the moment you hear the term “online violence”? The easily guessed relevant terms would be “cyberbullying”, ”blackmailing”, ”doxxing“, ”threatening” etc. But what might be intriguing, is how those forms of violence manifest themselves on a gender basis, and against women particularly.

Online violence against women is highly prevalent in the majority of prominently known platforms. This online environment that is deemed hostile by women is even more aggravating if the woman belongs to a certain religion or racial\ethnic minority. In a poll commissioned by Amnesty and carried out in eight countries, 23% of women surveyed were found to have experienced online abuse or harassment, so what really are the shapes and underlying factors behind this phenomenon, and how are they different when directed towards men?

It is believed that online violence is merely an extension of the violence and discrimination women are exposed to in offline settings. This is seen in the frequently occurring direct or indirect acts of physical and sexual threats that women receive online, as well as the different notions that target the humiliation of their personal identity. Such acts could be depicted as forms of sexism, racism, tribalism etc. In addition to this, we must take note of the acts that are performed to solely distress the well-being of the woman and reinforce her feeling of vulnerability. Forms of harassment, bullying, abusive comments or images might persist over a short or coordinated period of time and do not necessarily hold any anticipated future danger.

Another well-recognized form would be “doxxing”, which is described as a violation of one’s privacy, in which the personal details or documents of the person are shared online given that no approval or consent was received from the relevant party. Character assassination is another regulating form of violence that is significant to mention, it is referred to as an act that attempts to vilify and slander an individual with the intention of destroying the public’s confidence towards them. This broad term can be exemplified in practices such as revenge porn, which is defined as “sexually explicit images of a person posted online without that person’s consent especially as a form of revenge or harassment”. 

Character assassination takes a special angle regarding women’s ability to entertain free self-expression, this is perceived in the repression that they face upon being vocal and outspoken, which has proven to be especially aggravating towards female activists and influencers. 

This brings forth the reiteration of the question stated above, why are those previously mentioned manifestations of violence especially hindering on a greater extent to women in particular?

My answer would be that our gender, especially as Sudanese women, constitutes a significant part of this situation. Our fate is thought to be completely reliant on being privileged enough to attain the approval and favoring of a male, one who might be generous and courteous enough to even ask for our hand. This practice of limiting women’s worth to their appearance has made both men and women in our society rather inclined towards using strategies of body shaming or appearance disparagement as a way of shaming women. Our society also tends to commoditize us women; we are recognized as a tool to subjugate and insult the men of our families. Those oppressive perceptions make us feel constantly endangered and alert towards the behavior that we publicly project, and the way we choose to present and voice our opinions and beliefs. 

Before I conclude, I would like to discuss the level of awareness we have towards online violence as a whole. I believe that some progress has  occurred regarding the matter, since the response and action towards it had started to differ. Women and girls today are becoming more enlightened and aware about their rights. Although in several relevant occasions they have tended to  reproach and shame themselves, a portion of them that we can’t ignore has begun taking more practical measures against the perpetrators of the act, whether it be through the platform itself (blocking, reporting etc.) or by undergoing legal action if the situation escalated.


The Contribution of Sudanese Women to Sudan Uprising

For the longest time, Sudanese women have been limited, belittled and underestimated not only by men but also women. However, since Sudan Uprising began, Sudanese women have gone above and beyond proving to everyone what they are capable of.

When the protests first broke out in Sudan, men and women took it to the streets to express their anger. However, a large portion of society was very displeased with the mere thought of women going out in the protests and refused to allow their sisters, daughters, and wives to go out. People had different opinions and reasons as to why they were against it.
Some said that women are obstacles that stand in their way during the protests as they, according to them, are not physically built for it. Some said it is inappropriate and against the nature of our Sudanese culture. Some said that it is religiously and morally incorrect for women to join and march side by side with men. And some even went as far as calling girls who go out in protests ill-mannered, harlots; ones who have no one to “tame them.”

Despite all the push-back, the women of my country were least bothered and continued to join in the protests and contribute to it in every way they can. According to many reports, the number of women in some of the demonstrations was more than that of men. Women were seen in the front lines leading chants, encouraging everyone with their Zagareed (a type of ululation used to express joy and considered a battle cry in the olden times), rushing to aid the wounded, documenting using their cell phones, carrying solutions in their bags to help neutralize the tear gas shot at the protesters, distributing flyers about the protests and more.

One of the most powerful protests were staged in Ahfad University for women. These young women protested for three consecutive days during which they were heavily showered with tear gas canisters which they, fearlessly, returned!

Female protesters did not only contribute physically and mentally but also with their compassion and softness. One of the most unforgettable scenes is that of a girl holding the hand of one of the protesters, who was injured and in a great deal of pain and reassuring him. Or the many stories of women were reassuring everyone around them whenever they were trapped inside a building or a house and surrounded and tried to help everyone remain calm.

Although the number of women joining the protests is increasing every day many were still unable to join in; but nothing could stop these women! Women who couldn’t make it to the streets made sure to contribute in every way they can. A group of women sat on the rooftop of one of the buildings near a protest site and waited for the protesters (running away from NISS vehicles) to pass by to throw them water bottles. Some made food and drinks and distributed it to the protesters, giving them out themselves or sending them with their children.

However, what these women face is another story. In recent audio published by BBCOS, one of the ladies who spoke about how female protesters are treated and targeted by security forces said, “Being a female participating in these protests makes you an immediate target for verbal and sexual harassment…”

They have been beaten, threatened with rape, had their bones broken, ran over by vehicles, exposed to cavity searches while detained, had their hair shaved to humiliate them and many have been arrested some for days and even month.

Some influential Sudanese women have been behind bars for over a month now, some of them include Amal Gabr Allah, Dr. Ihsan Fagiri, Dr. Adeeba Alsayed, Dr. Nahid Gabr Allah and that’s to name a few.

But even in the worst of scenarios, Sudanese women remained both resilient and strong. In the 17th of January 2019, large numbers of women were arrested and detained in Al-Shmaly detention hall but they refused to be weakened and decided to chant anti-regime songs and rhymes inside their cell blocks. Their powerful united voices could be heard outside the walls of the building within which they were detained. An iconic incident that was to later inspire the protest on the 10th of February towards Omdurman’s female prison.

There are many stories about very powerful women and their contribution to Sudan Uprising, however, it is important to talk about that of Yousra El-Bagir. A Sudanese, female reporter who amidst social media crackdown and in the absence of media coverage, helped fill the gap between Sudan and the outside world giving #SudanUprising an international voice that reached the rest of the world. El-Bagir was attacked by security forces and had her phone confiscated while trying to cover one of the protests. She was also told that a criminal case will be filed against her for allegedly instigating against the state’ a crime that can be punished by a life sentence in prison. She eventually had to leave the country overnight before a statement was issued preventing her from leaving the country.

Another contribution worth mentioning is the panel discussion on the Sudanese revolution in Georgetown University in Qatar which was organized by Lina Hajo and Saraa Elamin was a brilliant contribution to #SudanUprising which in my opinion is quite effective as it is both educational and calls for opening a dialogue that can bring about great ideas. A contribution I would love to see more of in other countries.

I could write more about how Sudanese women contributed to this revolution and this article may never end. However, I will stop here and say, when it comes to the subject of women’s rights, Sudan remains a few light years behind on the matter. Sudanese women aren’t in the streets, behind screens or in study halls speaking truth to power about this revolution to prove themselves, they’ve already done that, they’re doing it to fight for a place for themselves on the discussion table. They understand that they still have to fight for their place and their rights in Sudan. They’re doing it to gain more power to change the scene for Sudanese women. This revolution came to life because Sudanese people are tired of being deprived of their basic rights. For women, however, it’s not just a matter of human rights and constitutional rights, it’s also a fight for women’s rights. These women understand that no one will fight their battle for them, and that’s why they’re fighting this battle for Sudan, for the future and to ensure a better future of every woman and little girl.

It’s about time that the Sudanese woman is respected, credited for her work, her strength and her incredible contribution to this society

“The Hand That Rocks The Cradle, The Procreator, The Mother Of Tomorrow; A Woman Shapes The Destiny Of Civilization. Such Is The Tragic Irony Of Fate, That A Beautiful Creation Such As The Girl Child Is Today One Of The Gravest Concerns Facing Humanity.”

“When You Kill A Girl You Kill Many Others.”


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.


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.

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