How do we deal with religious fundamentalism that becomes so deeply ingrained in the cultures of certain parts of the world and affect so negatively the lives of women? This is an issue I have always struggled with: up to what point can we justify or defend religion when it brings about so many negative consequences especially for women? The so-called “Morality Laws” in Sudan are examples of the serious and detrimental effects that laws based on religious moral codes have on women. President al-Bashir has imposed a conservative Islamist ideology since he came to power in the late 80s and incorporated Sharia Law as part of Sudan’s legal system. Anyone who dares to question or challenge the law will be dutifully punished with anything ranging from flogging to the death penalty. Amira Osman Hamed, a civil engineer from Sudan, is campaigning passionately against such laws after being spared of a public flogging because of “indecent dressing” for failing to cover her hair. Ms. Osman is just one of the thousands of female victims who every year face countless punishments for disobeying the law. According to her, in 2012, 70% of the 43,000 cases sent to the public order courts involved women. Article 152 of Sudan’s 1991 Criminal Act used to condemn Ms. Osman states the following:
‘(1) Whoever commits, in a public space, an act, or conducts himself in an indecent manner, or a manner contrary to public morality, or wears an indecent or immoral dress, which causes annoyance to public feelings, shall be punished, with whipping, not exceeding forty lashes, or with a fine, or with both (2) The act shall be contrary to public morals if it is regarded as such according to the standard of the person’s religion or the custom of the country where the act takes place.’
It is left to the police and local authorities to decide what constitutes “indecent manner” and “public morals,” which in the case of Sudan clearly draws from Sharia Law.
As the international media reignites an interest in the issues of gender equality, it seems like an appropriate time to address the role of religious morality in education. Where does morality come from? I am hesitant to believe it positively draws from religion, especially when there are stark differences from expected moral behavior between men and women. During the past weeks we’ve been studying the role of colonialism as it pertains to development in class. Religion is one of the big “imports” that former colonies inherited. However, it is often difficult to disentangle religion from culture in places like Sudan where both Islam and Christianity were introduced long ago in the first millenium. External factors by virtue of time and history become internal factors capable of causing destruction, war, and genocide. Sudan’s history is one that particularly shows the complexities of foreign influence, religion, colonialism and internal tribal conflicts. The most pressing problem now is that of Islamic Fundamentalism. I believe that bringing light to this issue is a necessary step before we can continue to discuss gender inequality. We need to support women like Ms. Osman in their struggle to demand equal rights and challenge so-called “morality laws” that are nothing other than misogynist, chauvinistic and sexist.
Amnesty.org.uk,. (2014). Amria Osman Hamed. Retrieved 6 October 2014, from http://www.amnesty.org.uk/amira-osman-hamed-sudan-woman-headscarf-flog#.VDHfaEu4klJ BBC News,. (2014). Sudan apostasy woman ‘to campaign’. Retrieved 6 October 2014, from http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-29399209
Equalrightstrust.org,. (2014). In Search of Confluence: Addressing Discrimination and Inequality in Sudan. Retrieved 6 October 2014, from http://www.equalrightstrust.org/view-subdocument/index.htm?id=1010 Mutiga, M. (2014). Sudan’s ‘morality’ laws used to punish women, report finds. the Guardian. Retrieved 6 October 2014, from http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/oct/02/sudan-morality-laws-women-report
the Guardian,. (2014). Emma Watson’s UN gender equality campaign is an invitation to men, too. Retrieved 6 October 2014, from http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/poverty-matters/2014/oct/03/emma-watsons-un-gender-equality-campaign-is-an-invitation-to-men-too