Sudanese teenager Noura Hussein was recently sentenced to death by a Sharia court in Sudan for allegedly stabbing her husband in a premeditated murder as she tried to resist rape. It is a provocative judgement where the girl struggled to stop her husband from raping her, and grabbed a knife to stab him in act of self-defence. The claims of self-defence have been completely overlooked by the court, giving the girl 15 days to appeal the death sentence given to her.
This is a very telling case of forced marriage as 16-year old Noura was coerced into marriage with this man, by her own father and an uncle. She eloped her village in Khartoum to live with an aunt, and after three years, her father tricked her to come back home, and this time, his plans of marrying off his daughter came to fruition. Noura had been with her husband for six days when he raped Noura, with the help of his two male cousins. On the following day, the husband attempted to have sex with Noura, but the girl protested, and in an act of self-defiance stabbed her husband. She later fled the spot and went to her parents, with the hope of seeking refuge, but to her shock, her own father turned her in to the police. Women’s rights groups and academics across the world have presented findings wherein a forced marriage almost always leads to physical and sexual abuse. This very act reveals that women, in many parts of the world, and not just Sudan, are treated as a ‘tradable’ entity, by the very people who are entrusted to protect her, and in this case, the father, who was the primary perpetrator of Noura’s forced marriage, even put her daughter behind bars. There is an underlying honour framework, which if women don’t comply by, men will take matters into their own hands. A married woman is expected to consummate her marriage, but the importance of consensual sex can’t be overstated. Marital rape is something which no legal and statutory wishes to talk about because it is assumed to be a private matter between the husband and the wife, but forced sex even in a marriage does account to rape. Why is it that legal authorities have closed their eyes and shut their ears for this very simple explanation which manifests the capacity of consent? From a gender framework, the cause can be speculated to be the historical depravation of ‘choice’ among women and the robust conjugal/male control of women.
Forced marriages, early child marriages and marital rape are common in Sudan, but Noura’s brazen act of defiance which led to her rapist husband’s death is an uncommon scenario. Under the Sharia law in Sudan, the husband’s family can demand either monetary compensation or death in such cases, and very conveniently, the accomplices of Noura’s forced marriage chose the latter. Sudan is ranked 140 out of 188 countries on the UN’s Gender Inequality Index which measures how women fare compared to men. The country has not signed the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and has weak policies in place to protect them. If the death sentence given to Noura is implemented, it will be a grave murder of women’s rights, and therefore, the country is urged to examine its conscience. In this predominantly Muslim African country, girls are considered ‘marriage material’ the moment they reach the age of puberty, and even a 10-year-old girl can be married off by her guardian with the permission of a judge. A marriage, especially in places where early forced marriages are prevalent, is then perceived as license of sexual access to a woman’s body.
Noura’s act of courage, yes it is courageous to resist something which is against your will, has drawn attention from the international community as high-profile figures have joined the campaign to get the death sentence overturned. Among them is model Naomi Campbell, actors Mira Sorvino, Emma Watson and Rose McGowan, and Julia Gillard, the former Australian prime minister. The activist group ‘Equality Now’ and the legal team working on behalf of the 19-year-old Noura are continuing to appeal the court order, and substantial that Noura is the victim in this case who has been wrongly prosecuted for self-defiance. Miscarriage of justice and a ray of hope for gender equality in Sudan form the two ends of the continuum for this crucial case. It is on the legal system to acknowledge that a teenager was forced into marriage without her free and full consent, and was subjected to rape by a person she didn’t want to marry. #JusticeforNoura will then pave way for overturning crippling patriarchal traditions and gender inequality persisting in Sudan.