Despite the gigantic strides feminism has taken in the past year, including the #MeToo movement and the recent indictment of Harvey Weinstein on charges of rape, the cases of women such as 19-year-old Noura Hussein in Sudan often go forgotten in favour of their Western counterparts. If we are to truly challenge rape culture and bring perpetrators of sexual violence to accountability, we must listen to and support the stories of countless women like Noura, who are facing the most extreme challenges and stigma around the world.
At 16, Noura was forcibly married to an older man by her father. Managing to escape, she ran away to her aunt’s house where she stayed for three years. Last year, however, Noura was tricked by her parents into returning home, where she was forced to complete the marriage. After refusing to consummate the marriage and resisting her husband for four days, Noura was eventually raped by her husband as his cousins held her down. The next day, when her husband tried to rape her again, she stabbed him in self-defence, resulting in his death from the stab wounds. Noura then returned home to her parents and told them what had happened, only to be disowned and taken straight to the police station, where she was arrested. Noura was then put on trial, and found guilty on 29th April 2018 for premeditated murder. On 10th May 2018, Noura was sentenced to death by hanging for her actions, taken ultimately in self-defence.
Fortunately, there has been a strong online response to Noura’s story, and many people around the world have rallied under the hashtag #JusticeForNoura to try and raise awareness about her case, and to put pressure on the Sudanese government to repeal her sentence. The movement has gained support from many high-profile figures, from Naomi Campbell to Emma Watson and Rose McGowan. The petition on Change.org urging the Sudanese government not to execute Noura now was over 1.3 million signatures, whilst the Amnesty International petition appealing to the Ministry of Justice has over 63,000 signatures. Noura’s story has inspired many women to share their own experiences of sexual assault, and thousands are reaching out to her by writing letters of support to show that she is not alone. The inmates of Dar al-Tayibat Women’s Prison, where Noura is currently imprisoned, have also rallied around her, providing a much-needed community for Noura as she awaits the outcome of this campaign.
What Noura’s story has highlighted is that this is not an unusual case for girls like her, as many young girls in Sudan (and indeed, across the world) face similar situations. Since the legal age of marriage is only 10 in Sudan, statistics show that 1 in 3 girls are married before they turn 18, and studies have shown that globally, girls who marry before the age of 15 are 50% more likely to have experienced physical or sexual violence from their partner than girls who get married over the age of 18. It is clear that child marriage has a serious and indisputable link to violence, and is an insidious problem not only in Sudan but across the world.
The global reach of the #JusticeForNoura movement has also brought to light the problem of rape culture in Sudan, and attitudes towards sexual abuse. According to Zaynub Affinih, a 16 year-old activist who set up the #JusticeForNoura petition on Change.org, “Noura’s story is extraordinary because she killed her abuser, and that is what she is being faulted for in the court of law and public opinion.” The fact that this is the one thing that sets Noura’s story apart is indicative of a much deeper problem in Sudanese society: that girls are supposed to stay silent and endure endless amounts of abuse. In her blog post for the petition, Zeynub includes several comments made by members of society claiming that Noura should have tried to ‘reason’ with her abuser, and that it was her husband’s right to have sex with her and she was therefore guilty for denying him. These comments only serve to underline the culture of victim-blaming that is prevalent not only in Sudan, but across the world, as well as the rather shocking attitudes towards marital rape which remains legal in Sudan. These problems are deeply embedded into the fabric of Sudanese society, but the potential for change remains. The first step is to achieve #JusticeForNoura, whose case remains in the hands of her lawyers, and of the Sudanese government.
Ananya Sriram is a second year French and International Relations student at the University of Leeds.