Maha participated in this year's Sister-to-Sister mentorship program, run by the Nobel Women's Initiative, and is powerful voice for youth working to build peace and promote gender equality.
Youth To End Sexual Violence is a network of youth activists from around the world, working to end sexual violence in conflict and amplify young people's voices at peace and policy discussions. The network was founded at the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict this June, and is also a member of the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict.
READ Maha's first statement as the Youth Ambassador for Sudan:
Every year, millions of women and girls worldwide suffer from violence; whether it is domestic violence, rape, dowry-related killing, trafficking, sexual violence, or other forms of abuse, violence against women is gross violation of human rights, and a threat to global peace, security, and development. In Sudan, high levels of poverty and rampant gender-based discrimination has resulted in the systematic violation of women's rights.
For more than twenty years of armed-conflict, Sudanese women and girls have experienced unprecedented levels of violence and exclusion. Every day, women in Sudan suffer from public harassment, and endure threats of emotional, physical, sexual, and economic abuse. Many traditional practices in Sudan also discriminate against women and girls. Women must dress according to modest Islamic standards, which requires a head covering; they are also not allowed to travel abroad without the permission of a husband, male relative, or male guardian. Most alarming, is the widespread practice of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM) in Sudan. Most girls suffer this procedure in infancy or early childhood in communities where the ritual has a long-standing history, and is therefore seldom challenged. It includes clitoridectomy, excision, infibulation, and all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical reasons, including pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterising (burning) the genital area. Women and girls who have suffered FGM experience shame and socially propagated degradation, and they often endure severe pain, shock, infection, infertility, and complications in sexual intercourse and childbirth, as well as an increased risk of newborn deaths.
Rape is another common form of violence against women in Sudan. Women and girls are unlikely to report incidences of rape, for fear of being cast out from their communities, and rejected from their families. The stigma attached to rape is one of the most devastating social consequences of sexual violence. It discourages women from denouncing their perpetrator(s) and speaking out about the kinds of violence they have endured. Married survivors of rape also run the risk of being accused of adultery, if they fail to prove the validity of their attack. The burden of proof is placed squarely on the shoulders of the victim. Traditional Sudanese Courts settle many cases of violence against women, but these are dominated by men and closely tied to the values that fail to promote and support the rights and interests of women and girls. Domestic and intimate partner violence is also a major problem for Sudanese women, but many survivors are reluctant to file complaints about such abuse. Law enforcement fails to intervene since domestic abuse as it is seen as a family problem.
For four years now, I have been working at Salmmah Women’s Resource Centre. In 2011, I joined the Executive Team, coordinating a two-year project funded by the European Commission (EC) in partnership of civil society organizations for “Promoting Women’s Human Rights in Sudan”. The Centre was founded in 1997 as an independent feminist resource organization, with expertise in the areas of gender equality and women’s rights. Its main focus is mobilizing and empowering women and women’s groups in order to influence policy and overcome structural, political and legal obstacles to the advancement of women’s rights. It also plays a leading role in the research, documentation, and dissemination of knowledge on women’s rights in Sudan. At the Centre, we continue to advocate for reform to rape laws, and to Sudan’s Revised Penal Code, which is being used as the basis to justify the sentencing of women to cruel forms of punishments such as stoning. We also continue advocate for the campaign to stop the practice of child marriage, and the reform of Sudan’s restrictive dress code laws, which force women and girls to live in fear of being arrested for what they wear. However, progress to the advancement of women’s rights continues to be challenged. In June, the Sudanese Ministry revoked the Centre’s non-profit registration license, and appointed a five-person committee to oversee the Centre’s dissolution. All properties found in possession of the Centre, including personal belongings of its staff were taken. The government has failed to mention any reason behind this decision.
For choosing to speak out in favor of my most basic human rights, and for acting in support of the elimination of sexual violence, I have been continuously threatened. The common narrative of violence and intimidation against Sudanese women and girls must end. Now more than ever, Sudan needs youth leadership and participation to end sexual violence in conflict. As Youth Ambassador for Sudan on Sexual Violence in Conflict, I will continue to advocate for women’s rights, and engage young men and women in the battle to end rape in war, giving youth the tools necessary to speak up and speak out against this scourge. Through non-violent activism, young people in Sudan can challenge the perpetration of human rights abuses, and sow the seeds for sustainable peace. I pray that young men and women, in Sudan and around the world, will stand in solidarity with one another as we demand justice and fight for the equality of all citizens. I am not be discouraged by fear, and I will continue to raise my voice for those who cannot speak out. The stakes are high, but the losses are immeasurable.
Youth Ambassador for Sudan on Sexual Violence in Conflict