24 women were charged with indecency after being caught wearing trousers at a private party in the capital of Sudan, proving that something needs to be done about the heinous and sexist enforcements of Article 152 of the Sudan Criminal Code.
Article 152 states, “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.” The punishment can include up to 40 lashes and jail time if a fine is not paid.
Due to the lack of a definition of what a decent or indecent act is, these laws are applied arbitrarily. Hundreds of thousands of women in Sudan are arrested and flogged for indecency every year by the “morality police,” or the Public Order Police.
The Public Order Police, which was instated in 1993, has the power to arrest and try suspects in special Public Order Courts. The force is known for shutting down private, mixed-sex events, such as the private party where the 24 women were charged. The police have also been known to raid businesses seen as being in breach of the law.
This law mostly affects women and girls, who are targeted by the modesty police since indecent behavior is subjective and often founded in sexist ideals. More than 70 percent of all public order cases involve women. If the victims do not want to be flogged or sent to jail, they have the option to pay a fine, which can amount to over $200 per fine.
“There are economic incentives for maintaining this system because of the high fines. You have huge numbers of people hauled before the courts who will pay to avoid the lashings,” said Carla Ferstman, the co-author of a report that investigated these laws.
The charges against the 24 women were dropped, presumably because they had obtained a permit from the authorities prior to the event, which took place in a closed hall in a public building.
“Police officers climb over walls and invade houses with no respect for privacy. We are psychologically traumatized by the raids and the inhumane treatment we face,” says a women interviewed by Ferstman for her report.
There are over 22 public courts for these cases in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum, and nearly one in every other city across the country. It was estimated that these courts make over $1.8M per month, which brings into question the motivation behind making so many arrests.
“We are calling for these laws to be abolished. The atmosphere they create is one of fear and self-censorship as women are never aware of when or for what reason they might be arrested,” said Ferstman.
Capitalizing on fear, especially for monetary gain, is just one of the many ways systematic institutions manipulate patriarchal influences to oppress women. The more powerful figures benefit from corrupt systems, the mortar Sudanese women will suffer from terror, with no place to turn for privacy or safety. Sudan needs to put women’s best interests – their health, freedom, and happiness – first, and this can only happen by spreading word of their corruption and replacing harmful figures with those more devoted to the Sudanese people’s well-being.
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