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Legal Mobilization to Protect Women against Rape in Islamist Sudan

Mobilisation juridique en faveur de la protection les femmes contre le viol dans le Soudan islamiste
Liv Tønnessen and Samia Al-Nagar
p. 355-376


The article explores the variety of normative and legal resources that Sudanese women inside and outside of Sudan’s Islamist regime, as well as their conservative religious opponents, have mobilized to campaign for legal reform to protect women against rape. Women’s rights activists and Islamist women within government institutions have largely mobilized in parallel, without much interaction and collaboration, to address the problems associated with the law’s definition of rape as adultery and fornication without consent. In 2015, Sudan’s National Assembly enacted an amendment to the 1991 Criminal Code with a new definition of rape, de-linking it from adultery and fornication; a process which completely excluded consultation with civil society. The reform has been poorly enforced and has come under harsh critique especially for not explicitly criminalizing marital rape.

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Full-text article available to subscribers or on a "pay per view" basis. It will be available on this URL in January 2024.
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Political Opportunities for Legal Mobilization
Rape Is Adultery without Consent
Criminal Law Reform
Women Activists outside of the State: A Politicized War Frame with Islamic Critique
Islamist Women inside the State: A De-Politicized Constitutional Frame with an Islamic Justice Strategy

First lines

A popular uprising recently ousted Omar al-Bashir and his Islamist cronies from power after having ruled Sudan with an iron fist since 1989. Sexual abuse and torture orchestrated by the Bashir’s regime has become a feature of its authoritarian rule, where national security forces as well as government backed militias use rape as a means to control and oppress. The most recent example of this tactic was displayed when peaceful protesters, who had gathered outside of the military headquarters in Khartoum at the end of Ramadan in June 2019, were met with brutal force, including sexual violence (Physicians for Human Rights 2020; sord 2020). Sudan introduced a reform of its rape law in 2015 when Bashir was still in power. Despite these legal changes to the 1991 Criminal Code, justice and accountability for sexual violence continue to be a popular demand in current post-revolutionary Sudan, especially in the context of Sudan’s armed conflicts. In the words of a female protester, “Women ha...

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Bibliographical reference

Liv Tønnessen and Samia Al-Nagar, « Legal Mobilization to Protect Women against Rape in Islamist Sudan »,  Cahiers d’études africaines, 242 | 2021, 355-376.

Electronic reference

Liv Tønnessen and Samia Al-Nagar, « Legal Mobilization to Protect Women against Rape in Islamist Sudan »,  Cahiers d’études africaines [Online], 242 | 2021, Online since 02 January 2024, connection on 25 September 2021. URL :  ; DOI :

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About the authors

Liv Tønnessen

Chr. Michelsen Institute (CMI), Bergen, Norway

Samia Al-Nagar

Independent researcher and women’s rights activist, Khartoum, Sudan

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© Cahiers d’Études africaines

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