Lubna Hussein takes on Sudanese trouser law.
Laura Woodhouse // 4 August 2009
Lubna Hussein, a Sudanese journalist and former UN worker, is facing forty lashes for the crime of “indecent dressing”, or wearing trousers. Her trial was adjourned today in order that the judge could clarify whether her relationship with the UN would grant her impunity; she handed in her resignation so that she could face trial and try to change the law, but her resignation has not yet been accepted.
Lubna was arrested along with a dozen other trouser-wearing women on July 3. Ten of them accepted the punishment of ten lashes, including a teenage girl, but Lubna and two others did not, and so were brought to trial. She says in a Guardian interview that she is not afraid of being flogged:
“It is not for me. It is my chance to defend the women of Sudan. Women are often arrested and flogged because of what they wear. This has been happening for 20 years. Afterwards some of them don’t continue at high school or university, sometimes they don’t return to their family, and sometimes if the girls have a future husband, perhaps the relationship comes to an end.”
Her actions have already brought hope to women across the country, and she has received messages of support from around the world. Her bravery has helped the other women in her group deal with what happened:
“I talked to my colleagues in the court, the 10 who have already been flogged. At the beginning they were very sad, and one of them was in a bad psychological state. But when she saw me on TV and in the newspaper, she called me to say that this was good. In the beginning, her neighbours and her family didn’t believe she was flogged just for the clothes she was wearing. So she called me to say thank you.”
She also wishes to defend Islam and challenge what she sees as the continued misrepresentation and misinterpretation of her religion around the world:
“Islam does not say whether a woman can wear trousers or not. The clothes I was wearing when the police caught me – I pray in them. I pray to my God in them. And neither does Islam flog women because of what they wear. If any Muslim in the world says Islamic law or sharia law flogs women for their clothes, let them show me what the Qur’an or Prophet Muhammad said on that issue. There is nothing. It is not about religion, it is about men treating women badly.”
“The west really doesn’t understand Islam,” she says. “Because as Muslims we know that, if the police catch girls and arrest and flog them, we know this is not Islam. But when the government of Bashir does that, the west says: ‘Oh, that is Islam.’ It presents a bad face of Islam.”
She sent out 500 invitations to her trial today, and the court was flooded with well-wishers and women’s rights activists. Protesters outside the court, including women wearing trousers, were beaten and sprayed with tear gas by police; a clear sign that this law and the resulting trial are about reinforcing male control over women, not the cut of an individual’s clothes.
The trial will continue in September. What an inspirational woman.