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sudanese women use social media to smash gender barriers

May 13, 2019
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Sharia Law was introduced in Sudan in 1983, drastically diminishing the role women played in Sudanese public life. Much like any woman looking to pursue interests outside of the home, Sudanese women experience above-average criticism but the rise of social media and smartphones has provided loopholes to finesse the imposed control of their movements. According to This Is Africa, in Sudan’s capital Khartoum, a group of 45 women entrepreneurs use Facebook to trade various products sold directly from their homes, giving them more economic freedom than custom will allow.

The Facebook group is called tajirat al-Facebook where traders use their smartphones to sell clothes, cosmetics, traditional Sudanese attire, accessories and perfumes from the privacy of their homes. These women gave up their careers to get married and start families, often with husbands or male relatives who are well-off. There was little economic motivation outside of just wanting to enjoy a hobby outside of the house. But there has been an economic downturn in Sudan and these online transactions gave their household a lifeboat they would often have to hide from their husbands. Working from home gives these Sudanese women the opportunity to navigate digital sales as well as engage in aspects of public life that were unreachable before the technological boom.

Other social networks like WhatsApp have also created spaces for women to engage in political discussions/debates — a significant trend considering the prominence of women at the forefront of the movement that ousted authoritarian ruler Omar al-Bashir. The deadly protests that began at the end of 2018 marked the prominence of the young female presence in Sudanese politics and activism. Many of the traders posted flags in solidarity with the uprising made viral by the freedom fighter in white, Alaa Salaah.

The rise of technology is often tinged with distrust, for obvious reasons, but what the Facebook traders of Sudan show us is that the reach and power of technology is controlled by the intentions behind it. Hopefully, the future has more people like Sudanese traders being empowered by the access afforded by social media instead of fascists. Young Sudanese women in their early 20s propelled the uprising to the world stage with nothing but their cellphone cameras and thirst for change — one can only imagine the role free-flowing social discourse among Sudanese women did to galvanize such courage. These young activists intended to affect change and they ended up removing an authoritarian regime. The Facebook traders intended to find a semblance of freedom through their entrepreneurship and what they found was a community and a means to contribute towards their households.

As much as social media has made us more aware of the bigoted masses, it can also be a tool to fight the isolation that comes from the imposed power dynamics that keeps Sudanese women in the home. Taking care of home should not mean being estranged with the outside world and it definitely should not mean being excluded from political discourse. Slowly but surely, this new-found freedom will transform Sudan right under the noses of the old male guard.