This is the first of a two-part interview on the background to his interest and research in women and South Sudanese citizenship law.
BBKLR: Hi Nasredeen, thanks for talking to us about your paper, 'Women and Citizenship in
Sudan and South Sudan: A Comparative Analysis'. It caught the eye of the Birkbeck Law Review Editorial Board right away.
As one of the world’s newest countries, one would expect there to be a great deal of interest in how legislation develops. Thank you for bringing this very interesting subject to light.
How did you come to study this topic?
NA: I came to study this topic of women and citizenship as part of my broader research and studies on citizenship (in general), inclusion, and diversity (be it ethnic, gender, cultural, or religious).
My relationship with citizenship law and policies first started when I took a course on United States immigration law and policy during my master of laws studies in the United States. My attention was drawn to this particular women and citizenship issue in late 2009 early 2010, when I was, in fact, doing research on citizenship laws in Sudan and post-secession problems—it became clear back then that South Sudan was going to secede from Sudan. Therefore, it was necessary to examine the citizenship laws of Sudan and the future citizenship law of South Sudan to predict the possible scenarios, as far as South Sudanese residing in the North (i.e. Sudan) and North Sudanese residing in the South were concerned.
The ultimate objective of my research was to ensure that the international human rights of ordinary citizens would not be violated as a result of what was an inevitable breakup between Sudan and South Sudan. After completing my initial research and examination of the Sudan Nationality Act of 1994 (as amended in 2005) and the New Sudan Act of 2003, I came away with a conclusion that the two laws were discriminating on the basis of gender and race. As I was writing generally about post-secession problems, focusing specifically and comprehensively on gender discrimination was beyond the scope of my research.
My thoughts on the question of discrimination against women in citizenship granting and deprivation further developed when I was invited by a local non-governmental organization in Khartoum, Sudan, to speak about citizenship and protection of internally displaced women. It was at this point that I studied the African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa (also known as the Kampala Convention). It was during this stage, too, that I studied the relevant international conventions that were specifically adopted to address the citizenship problems of women who get married or divorced and those of women whose husbands’ citizenship changes during their marriage (if they are married to an alien man). These conventions aim at protecting women against losing their citizenship as a result of getting married, divorced, or their husband’s change of nationality while they are still married.
I have utilized the research that I conducted and the ideas that I developed during these two different occasions as well as my public international law and human rights background to write this article. The article now, I hope, comprehensively tackles the different dimensions of the question of women and citizenship in Sudan and South Sudan in comparison to the experiences of some other African nations and international law principles and rules.
BBKLR: Sudan and South Sudan have very different attitudes to women and citizenship under the law. Why do you think this has come about?
NA: Sudan and South Sudan are two different nations in terms of culture, ethnicity, religion, and history, and have always been so. Culturally speaking, Sudan is, in general, a mixture of indigenous African and Arab cultures—many people moved from West Africa, North Africa, and the Arab Peninsula into Sudan over different periods of time. Arab and Muslim immigrants who immigrated to Sudan as merchants or preachers brought the Arabic and Islamic culture into the country. Thereby, Islam became the dominant religion in the North, and Sharia has been applied since 1983. South Sudan has been dominantly Christian (about 57%) with the existence of a small Muslim population.
Immigrants from the other parts of Africa came with their own cultures, as well. As for Sudan, the mixture of these various cultures and ethnicities does not, however, negate the fact that there are tribes or ethnicities, in some parts of Sudan that, generally speaking, still maintain their distinct “African” or Arab cultures. Ethnically, Sudan has a mixed Arab and black African population, although the vast majority is still ethnically black African. In terms of religion, Sudan is dominantly Muslim with a minority Christian population and indigenous African religions and belief systems in Blue Nile and the Nuba Mountains (South Kordofan).
Historically, because of geographic, linguistic, and religious ties, the North has been more connected to Egypt and the Middle East, while South Sudan has been increasingly more connected to East Africa. In fact, the British, in the last years of their colonialization of Sudan, considered making South Sudan part of East Africa.
Overall, Sudan and South Sudan, when still united as one country, had disharmonious and usually tense relations, which in 1955 manifested in what was the beginning of the longest African civil war creating further social and cultural disconnections between them.
To address the problem of such relations, the British adopted a policy known as the Southern Policy that prevented Northern merchants from entering into the southern region of Sudan (now South Sudan). That policy arguably helped South Sudanese maintain their languages and cultures.
This brief history illustrates to a wide extent the different cultural and therefore legal attitudes in Sudan and South Sudan towards women. Attitudes of men towards women and of women towards men are normally shaped by religion, culture, and history. Laws, when propagated and applied by the state for a long time—as Sharia has been in Sudan—also contribute to shaping the attitudes of people.
Therefore, differences of history, culture, and religion between the two nations illustrate the difference of attitudes towards women. Given that legislation is in many ways a reflection of cultural and historical notions, the citizenship laws of the two nations are understandably different when it comes to women.
That is why I argue in my article that religious and cultural notions and practices are responsible for the existence of discrimination.
Part 2 of this article will follow shortly.