How Sudanese girls made me contemplate my school memories

Usually, I’m very lazy in the morning, particularly now during the pandemic, so I go out to do my groceries only in the afternoon. And how I regret it sometimes if my out time coincides with the end-of-school time and I cross all the teenagers that are out on the streets, laughing, loudly mocking each other in their puberty-breaking voices. wandering the streets in groups taking too much space, not noticing others… Oh yes, I’m like a grumpy old lady who is bothered that her private space is invaded by the girls and boys that wander the street in big groups taking too much space and not noticing anyone on their way.

Then, when I see a girl that reminds me of someone from my childhood, I become nostalgic and remember myself and my school. It looks so ordinary, repetitive, we all have such memories, often similar, often controversial, but meaningful.

Though, not so ordinary for some. It is hard to imagine that in the 21st century there are still places somewhere in this world where the right to education is something to fight for. Some girls are dying for the opportunity to go to school. And those ambiguous memories, weird choices, and school friends are just unachievable dreams.

Sudan is one of many such places. When Françoise goes to school in Paris, her father wishes her good luck. When Samah el-Hadi wanted to go to school her father shot her three times and ran over with a car. Man is walking free.

“This crime is the clearest and the most ugliest crime against women and children. In order to protect Samah’s rights we want them to reopen the case and re-examine her body and arrest everyone involved. What has happened will put all families under the danger of violence.”

Sudan is one of the 30 countries where girls of school age have more chances to become a bride or go through female circumcision (FGM) than to actually go to school. These two practices are the loudest facts of gender inequality and burning discrimination that consistently devalue girls.

Bizarrely, UNFPA claims that since the change in political leadership a few years ago Sudan has taken a “number of steps to strengthen protection and promotion of human rights of women and girls, including adopting legislation that criminalizes female genital mutilation”.

However recent movements over the social media of young women speaking up about the cruelest crimes that happen behind closed doors create some doubts about the country moving forward with women’s rights.

Visiting friends, wearing pants, participating in protests — just some examples of “unlawful” women’s behavior that can be punished by male family members.

Sajida Omer was killed and buried by her father and brother for talking to a man. They too walk free.

Obviously to prosecute you need a law. But there is no law that can protect women in Sudan. Domestic violence is not covered by Sudanese law.

Years of violence, conflicts between Arab and non-Arab populations have left the country in ruins fully dependent on humanitarian aid with millions of refugees and displaced population. After the fall of the violent dictator Omar Al-Bashir in 2019, there was hope for a better future, but the violence restarted recently after peacekeeping mission withdrawal.

Despite new freedoms enjoyed across Sudan, the political and legal system stay highly discriminatory and outdated.

“The police and the judiciary system in Sudan is based on compensations and solving problems, the prosecutors get incentives and they get upgraded for solving the problems, not for judging them.”

With graver threats of violence and lack of protection and food, a greater number of refugees arrive at the camps. Women refugees report being again in the most vulnerable position. Arriving often alone with kids they suffer again from sexual violence and discrimination. Such threats prevent them from carrying on some essential activities, like collecting firewood outside the sites.

There are procedures and help which international organizations provide to women and girls in the camps, but as often it happens, societal or religious barriers make it impossible for many victims to report a crime.

Fearing judgment to report a circumcision or a shame to ask protection from a husband, Sudanese women won’t talk to an aid worker, particularly to a man.

Being a woman and girl is not easy. You need someone you trust to share your pain and the official law you understand to protect you. Until then Sudanese girls won’t be able to collect their priceless school memories and make their own life choices; to grow worry-free and safe.

What to do?

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