“Let us unite for our rights, for our dignity, for our free will, for a peaceful world…Let’s unite to defend our causes all over the world, to condemn the violence against women under the name of customs, traditions, and religion. Let’s make our main course of action so that every human can live with honor and dignity.”
In high school, Amira Osman Hamed suffered a terrifying seven-hour interrogation by a large group of fellow students about her commitment to Islam.
She escaped the ordeal when one of the students took her out of the crowd, calmed her and advised her to return the next morning to declare her dedication to Islam at school assembly.
“My colleagues took my bag home, my family was very worried because it was getting late,” she recalled in an interview. “These girls tried to break me. I was in a bad state.”
Her siblings and mother supported her, she said, “and the next day I didn’t redeclare my Islam. Looking back at it if I did, I would’ve been broken for the rest of my life.”
It was 1992 in Sudan, under the authoritarian regime of Omar al-Bashir. Though she had joined the Democratic Front at school, Amira was more interested in sports than activism until that night. “A snowball of anger was born inside me.”
That anger has spurred Amira for three decades to campaign against authoritarian and military rule, for democracy, freedom of speech and assembly, and to challenge patriarchal laws in Sudan that deny dignity and restrict women’s freedom.
“Whenever I went out in a protest my mother always used to tell me ‘Don’t let them terrify you. Don’t let the military and al-Kezan (islamists) terrify you. Stay together. You’re strong when you’re together.’ I miss her so much.”
Amira leads the civil society group No to Women’s Oppression, which has said that thousands of women have been flogged in Sudan for violating dress codes and other aspects of public order law.
During the ongoing women’s revolution in Iran, sparked by Jina Mahsa Amini’s death during custody for failing to properly wear a hijab, No to Women’s Oppression posted a message on Facebook recalling the role women activists played in Al-Bashir’s downfall in Sudan.
“The regime of Omar al-Bashir in Sudan, who was overthrown by a popular uprising in 2019, used similar tactics to the Iranian regime to instill fear and division by attacking women for ‘immodest’ dress and punishing them on suspicion of violating its repressive laws,” the statement said. “As in Iran, many women paid a heavy price for this, facing beatings, jail and even death at the hands of the police.”
Amira’s history of advocacy and protest is punctuated by several arrests, detentions, torture and threats of rape by law enforcement. She has endured severe mistreatment despite a disability since several years ago when a wall collapsed on her and eight other family members. She was paralyzed and has difficulty getting around now due her injured back.
During a crackdown on protesters earlier this year, just a few months after the Oct. 25, 2021, military coup, security forces grabbed Amira from her house and took her to an unknown location. While in custody, “they didn’t show any consideration for my disability.”
She was freed after United Nations officials and others called for her release. The ordeal didn’t stop her from returning to demonstrations against the military junta that overturned the transitional government that had replaced al-Bashir, toppled by popular protests in 2019.
Amira’s first arrest was in 2002 -- for wearing trousers. She was arrested for refusing to wear a hijab in 2013. In 2012 she told Human Rights Watch that she was arrested with a group of women demonstrators, then rearrested after release and taken to security offices in Khartoum. She was threatened with rape. It was “terrifying.”
In the interview, Amira said she was brutally tortured during her 2012 detention. She went on hunger strike and was released a few days later. “It was a matter of life or death for me, I wanted to die rather staying in that place,” she said.
The No to Women’s Oppression initiative was formed in response to the arrest and detention in 2009 of Lubna Hussain, a journalist and UN official, and 13 other women for wearing trousers. They faced a flogging penalty.
“I used to randomly stop people on the street and tell them about what’s happening to Lubna,” Amira said.
In May 2022 Amira received a Front Line Defenders Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk.
Amira said she is motivated by the solidarity and kindness she has been shown.
“When the accident happened, I was paralyzed in my bed, but the love and the solidarity that I felt during this period of my life from my friends and family and even people who I didn’t know is heartwarming and showed me what the Sudanese people are made of,” she said.
“I remember on a rainy morning a distant relative of mine who I had never met came from a different city, he said he wanted to pray al-Fajr in our home because it’s a blessed time and the prayers are answered, I will never forget this. This what’s keeps me going and motivated. The Sudanese people deserve to live with dignity and freedom.”
She calls for solidarity among women of the world. “Let us unite for our rights, for our dignity, for our free will for a peaceful world,” she said. “Let’s unite to defend our causes all over the world, to condemn the violence against women under the name of customs, traditions, and religion. Let’s make our main course of action so that every human can live with honor and dignity.”
Amira Osman Hamed is a human rights defender in Sudan who’s been arrested for wearing trousers and for refusing to wear a hijab. She leads the civil society group No to Women’s Oppression.
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ABOUT THE 16 DAYS CAMPAIGN
The 2022 Nobel Women's Initiative's contribution to the global 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence Campaign features interviews with women activists about their experiences advocating for peace and women’s rights in conflict zones. In Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Yemen, Myanmar, Sudan, Syria, Iraq and Ukraine, these human rights defenders pursue peace as one pathway to reducing sexual and other forms of gender-based violence.