Sanity Injection

Injecting a dose of sanity into your day’s news and current events.

The new face of women’s rights: Lubna Ahmed al-Hussein

Posted by sanityinjection on August 3, 2009

I want to introduce you to this brave Sudanese lady who is currently at the frontline of the battle for women’s rights. Ms. Hussein was arrested at a restaurant in the Sudanese capital city of Khartoum. Her crime? Wearing trousers – considered “indecent clothing” under a Sudanese law called Article 152. The punishment involves a fine and a number of lashes with a whip on the clothed body.

Such arrests are not unusual in the northern half of the country where the population is predominantly Muslim and sharia law governs. However, enforcement is haphazard. I’m betting that the authorities are already wishing that they hadn’t chosen Ms. Hussein to arrest that night. Unlike many Sudanese women who lack formal education and would be afraid to challenge authority, Ms. Hussein is a journalist who works for the United Nations. Instead of plea bargaining for a reduced sentence as other women who were arrested for the same crime have done, Ms. Hussein is appealing her sentence of 40 lashes, claiming that Article 152 is not only unconstitutional but un-Islamic as well:

“If some people refer to the sharia to justify flagellating women because of what they wear, then let them show me which Koranic verses or hadith say so. I haven’t found them.”

Ms. Hussein made a point of wearing the same outfit to her first court hearing that she was wearing when she was arrested, so that everyone present could judge for themselves whether her clothing was indecent. Here is a photo:

 (Photo credit: Agence France-Presse)

Even by Middle Eastern cultural standards regarding the exposure of flesh, it’s hard to argue this outfit is indecent. Ms. Hussein plans to appeal her case all the way to the top, and says she is prepared to take 40 or even 40,000 lashes if necessary.

The authorities, trying to avoid publicity, tried to see if Ms. Hussein’s position with the UN qualified her for diplomatic immunity, so they could make the whole thing go away without having the law challenged. However, Ms. Hussein threatened to quit her job if they did that and waived any right to immunity, as she wants to challenge the law once and for all.

What’s especially nice about this case is that it can’t be dismissed as a bunch of do-gooder human rights NGOs trying to impose Western values on a Muslim country. Ms. Hussein is clearly calling her own shots on this one, though she may be getting financial assistance. Rather than the challenge coming from outside, this is a Sudanese woman standing up for the rights of her countrywomen. I can only imagine how inspirational she must be for other Sudanese women – if they are even allowed to know about the case at all.


2 Responses to “The new face of women’s rights: Lubna Ahmed al-Hussein”

  1. […] example I recently wrote about a Sudanese woman who is facing 40 lashes for the offense of wearing trousers. In that case, there is a compelling argument that wearing trousers may not, in fact, be a […]

  2. Update: Hussein’s conviction was upheld, but the sentence was reduced to a fine of $209. The Sudanese journalists’ union paid the fine and Ms. Hussein was freed from prison today.

    Hussein, who refused to pay the fine and wanted to remain in jail to protest her conviction, is disappointed. The issue for her was never the flogging – which she was prepared to endure – but the validity of the law itself and its arbitrary enforcement. Those questions were ducked by the court. The journalists’ union is seen as being dominated by the government and no doubt paid the fine in order to make the case go away:

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