[Documents menu] Documents menu

Decision to Restrict Service Women in Sudan Backfires

Panafrican News Agency, 7 September 2000

KHARTOUM, Sudan—A decision by the governor of Khartoum State barring women from certain occupations has been greeted with a storm of fury from workers, trade unions and human rights groups in Sudan.

The unions have threatened that they would protest the decision at the country’s constitutional court.

Governor Majzoub Khalifa Tuesday barred women from engaging in occupations he considered harmful to the dignity of women and a breaching of the teachings of the Islamic religion.

According to Khalifa, women will not be allowed to engage in room service at hotels, sell fuel at gas stations, or serve food at restaurants and cafeterias.

The governor said work of women in such professions is permissible only in cases where the customers are women.

The country’s federation of workers trades unions Wednesday said the governor’s decision was unlawful and hampered the freedom of women.

This decision compromises the freedom of women, disrupts the nation and contradicts the country’s constitution that guarantees women the right to work, Taj el Sir Abdoun, chairman of the unions, argued.

It could have been all right if the governor had obliged working women to dress and behave decently but to deny them work in the manner he did is not acceptable to the union, he added.

He said the governor’s decision might force women to engage in indecent occupations. If women are prevented from work, they may engage in occupations that contradict religious teachings, Abdoun warned.

We will go to the constitutional court if the governor does not reconsider this law, he threatened.

Women organisations of different affiliations have also condemned the decision.

Following an emergency meeting it held Tuesday night, the Sudanese Women Union—a pro-government organisation—said it would file a memo urging the governor to cancel the law.

The opposition Democratic Women Alliance described the decision as part of a plot to deny women the right to work.

The law is a deepening of discrimination against women, the chairperson of the alliance, Mahasin Abdula’al, said in a statement. It is an insult to women.

The National Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy and the Sudanese Group for Human Rights said they would proceed with procedures for a constitutional objection at the constitutional court.

National Alliance Secretary Ghazi Suleiman said the law contradicted the constitution and violated international laws and charters on women’s rights.

He said the decision, in both timing and content, would be very embarrassing to President Omar el Bashir who is now in New York attending the UN Millennium Summit.

This decision will abort President Bashir’s mission in New York of winning the confidence of the international community, Suleiman, an outspoken advocate of democratic rule, pointed out.

The Sudanese Group for Human Rights has valled on all concerned bodies to petition, urging Bashir and the labour minister to nullify the decree.

Nahla Musa, a gas service attendant, said she obtained her job through the Khartoum labour office after an interview. I am working in open daylight to feed my family of five who are all happy of what I do for them, she said.

Customers were at first surprised at the sight of a woman selling fuel. But they have now become very co- operative and encouraging, the daily newspaper Al-Ayyam (days) Wednesday quoted her as saying.

Amira Abdu, another gas station worker, said she supports a family of seven, many of whom are still young and in school.

At first young men in the neighbourhood used to tease me about my work. But now they respect me and understand my position, Amira noted.