Content warning: rape
Despite some of us believing that we live in a post-#metoo world, one story in particular has brought to light the heartbreaking reality of gender discrimination and sexual violence towards women across the globe.
This is the story of Noura Hussein, the 19-year-old woman from Sudan who is facing the death penalty.
What is Noura’s Story?
Noura was forced into a betrothal at the age of 16, but ran away from home to take refuge with her Aunt in order to finish her education. After three years, her father sent word that the wedding was cancelled, calling her back to the family home. Once there, however, it became clear that Noura had been deceived, and she was forced to marry against her will. For the first week, Noura refused to consummate the marriage. Eventually, her husband enlisted the help of his family members to restrain Noura while he raped her.
When her husband returned to repeat his violation, Noura defended herself by stabbing and fatally wounding him.
Is this case unusual?
In Sudan, the legal age of marriage is 10, and there is no law against marital rape. Against the Sudanese courts, women like Noura have very little power.
Noura’s story is one of many. She is among countless women and girls who have been forced into marriage, or become victims of marital rape and gender-motivated violence and abuse. This kind of violence towards women occurs right here in the United Kingdom too, as the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) estimates that approximately 26% of women (compared to 13% of men) have been victims of domestic abuse. Similar proportions have also experienced stalking (20.9%), non-sexual partner abuse (20.1%) and sexual assault (19.9%) since the age of 16.
Where the situation in Sudan differs, however, is in the structural injustice which backdrops such crime.
After a year of imprisonment in Omdurman, Noura was convicted of the murder of her rapist. On the 10th May 2018, she was sentenced to death.
UN Women, UNFPA and the UN Office of the Special Adviser on Africa, alongside many of the citizens of Sudan, are appealing for clemency to be granted, and the death sentence revoked. Thousands all over the world are signing an online petition to raise the profile of Noura’s case and take a stand against the authorities' violation of her human rights. The rallying has encouraged ambassadors based in Khartoum, from the European Union, Norway and Switzerland, to voice opposition to the verdict. Badr Eldin Salah, an activist from the Afrika Youth Movement who was present in court, claims that this kind of support is vital if Noura’s lawyers want to win her appeal.
Sudanese-Australian mechanical engineer and activist Yassmin Abdel-Magied, is certain that sharing Noura's story will make a difference, and refers to Meriam Ibrahim as an example of international uproar resulting in presidential pardon.
Noura had 15 days to appeal from the date of the sentence being passed, leaving us with one week to put pressure on the Sudanese authorities and demand justice. Her life, and the lives of girls who will follow her, are counting on our refusal to be silent.
We must not let Noura’s story slip to the wayside.
Update: Since the time of writing, Noura's lawyers have made an official appeal to reverse the sentence. While al-Fateh Hussein, a lawyer in Hussein's defence team, predicts it could be months before the court delivers its ruling, Noura has publicly thanked "those who stood against oppression of the women that were forced into marriage". The online petition has gained over 1 million signatures, and gained celebrity support from the likes of Naomi Campbell.
Image sourced via Alarabiya.net.