Of course, with all of that, the existence of a huge wealth gap and economic crisis, combined with these oppressive gender-based laws, meant that working-class women, women who work in the informal sector, day laborers (including street vendors), liquor sellers, domestic workers, construction workers, and countless refugees from South Sudan and Eritrea, or else internally displaced people from different parts of Sudan that had to come to Khartoum. They were especially targeted on a constant basis, imprisoned, fined, and flogged in accordance with these laws. Women street vendors, mostly the tea and food sellers, have been a direct target not just by the police, but also by the locality administrators who use these laws as a form of economic extortion. Women’s belongings are often confiscated from them and they are required to pay an exorbitant fee to receive their equipment back, or else they end up spending nights in jail where they are subjected to sexual violence from police officers. Now, the precarity of the situation of women in Sudan was a driving force for many of them to rebel continuously against al-Bashir’s regime and to create alternative spaces in which to organize and educate each other. And it also made it unsurprising that seventy percent of the protesters during the December 2018 revolution were women.
Women day-laborers were also very well organized through the Food and Tea Sellers Association, which dealt with much of the legal situation regarding their specific conditions. These women have to organize underground most of the time because of the looming threat of state violence, but also due to intergenerational conflicts within the movement. There are also struggles with less radical approaches or liberal forms of feminism. And on top of that, the persistence of patriarchal practices and beliefs within Sudanese opposition political parties, even within leftist parties, have limited women’s participation and excluded them from many roles. This could be seen even during the revolution, such as the 2020 Juba peace talks, and even with regard to protest and civil disobedience. A response to these internal struggles was the building of the Khush el Lejna campaign, which means “join the committee,” in regards to the resistance committees, which I will speak a little bit about in a moment. But Khush el Lejna was a campaign that young women in Sudan led to ensure that girls join their neighborhood resistance committees, which is where popular governance was taking place, and also from the advocacy of women’s rights groups for the political involvement of women.
Another group that was also quite active are refugees in Khartoum, the majority of whom are women. They have also been organizing sit-ins and protests regarding their conditions. A recent example of this was the long sit-in in 2020 in front of the UNHCR headquarters in Khartoum, demanding an immediate resolution to perpetually delayed refugee cases. I have met Eritrean refugees who were born in Khartoum, and have remained refugees into their adult lives. Their cases are still not resolved. And so there’s been many sit-ins and direct actions to push towards immediate resolution. But unfortunately the UNHCR collaborated with the authorities and removed protesters to the edges of the city in an area without any services.