Liv Tønnessen publishes article on women advocates advocating for rape reform in Sudan


In her forthcoming article Enemies of the State: Curbing Women Activists Advocating Rape Reform in Sudan to be published in Journal of International Women’s Studies, CMI Senior Researcher Liv Tønnessen aims to contribute to increased understanding of women activists in Sudan and the progress in the campaign to ensure justice for violence against women.

The article investigates the legal campaign launched in 2009 by Sudanese woman activists calling attention to how the country’s Sharia-based Criminal Act of 1991 produced impunity for sexual assault in the Darfur conflict. After years of investigation, Sudan enacted a rape kit reform in 2015. While on the surface this appeared a success story, extensive interviews conducted in Khartoum suggest that this regime-controlled rape reform is more about the struggle of an authoritarian state to keep an emerging independent women’s movement under control, rather than the protection of rape victims in Darfur. By situating the reform within the broader political dynamics of the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) arrest order against the Sudanese president for the use of rape as a war tactic in Darfur, the article notes that it becomes clear that this pushed an already pressured head of state to clamp down on independent women’s groups advocating rape reform. Women activists were framed as collaborators of the ICC and an enemy of the Sudanese state. Tønnessen finds that an immediate implication of targeting women activists is that the regime has silenced critical voices, pointing to the limitations of the rape reform as well as those most likely to watchdog its implementation. The long-term implication is that it weakens the foundation for generating further policy changes on violence against women.

Note: The article is an output of the research project Protection of Civilians: From Principle to Practice, placed under the umbrella of NCHS and funded by the Research Council of Norway, from 2012 to 2016. The abstract for the article to be published in 2017 can be found here.