Information in this country note does not refer to South Sudan, unless otherwise specified.

Sudan is ranked 85 out of 86 in the 2012 Social Institutions and Gender Index.

The country was ranked 102 out of 102 in the 2009 Social Institutions and Gender Index.

The 2011 Human Development Index score for Sudan is 0.408, ranking the country in 169th place out of 187 countries with data. The 2011 Gender Inequality Index of 0.611 places Sudan 128 out of 187 countries. Sudan was not ranked in the 2011 Global Gender Gap report.

Discriminatory Family Code: 

In Sudan, marriage is governed by codified Sharia law, under the Muslim Personal Law Act of Sudan, 1991. The minimum age for marriage is defined as both parties having reached puberty.[15] According to the law, both parties have to consent to marriage; however, the woman needs permission from a male guardian to validate the marriage. The husband is obliged to give the bride a dowry and the law stipulates that the dowry is the property of the wife and her family.[16]

A large house-hold survey that included data covering the whole of present-day Sudan and South Sudan, conducted by the Government of South Sudan in 2006, found that 36% of women in Sudan were married before the age of 18 and 12% were married before the age of 15.[17]  In total, 24.7% of girls aged 15-19 were married or in union.[18]   These results correlate with data from UNICEF which reported that 34% of women aged 20-24 were married by the age of 18. The UNICEF data indicates that child marriage is more prevalent in rural areas. [19]

Forced early marriage is reported to be a significant problem in Sudan, although information as regards to prevalence is not available.[20] The national child protection legislation for Sudan introduced in 2010 does not include protection against early or forced marriage.[21]

Polygamy is legal in Sudan under Islamic personal law and customary law. Under Islamic law, a man is allowed to marry up to four wives. The number of wives is not limited under customary law.[22] Christian men do not have the right to marry more than one wife.[23] The 2006 national household survey found 27.5% of women were in polygamous unions.[24] 

The rights of women to divorce vary according to the different types of law in Sudan. Under Sharia law women have the right to file for divorce in certain circumstances.[25] These circumstances include: if the husband fails to fulfil his financial obligation to support her; if her husband has more than one wife and she can prove that her husband does not treat all his wives equally; if the husband has a defect she did not know about before marriage; if the husband suffers from an incurable mental illness; if the husband is impotent; if he behaves cruelly; if he is abroad for more than one year; and if the husband is sentenced to prison for more than two years. A husband has the right to divorce his wife unilaterally, without turning to the court, by saying “I divorce you”.[26]

Reports suggest that is it more difficult to get a divorce under customary law than Sharia law due to the dowry rules. As the dowry is the property of the wife’s family, a divorce will have economic consequences for the entire family (who will lose the dowry in the event of divorce), thus preventing women from seeking divorce.[27] Christian women and men are only able to obtain a divorce in cases of adultery or extreme domestic abuse.[28]

By law, parental authority is granted solely to fathers and men have the legal status of head of the family. [29] In the event of divorce, under Sharia law, young children usually remain with their mothers, but custody automatically reverts to fathers when sons reach the age of 7 years and daughters reach 9 years. Once these ages have been reached, the courts can order custody arrangements to be altered ‘in the best interests of the child’; however, if a woman remarries, custody automatically reverts to the father.[30] Available literature on customary law suggests that women have no custody rights of their children following divorce, while Christian women have the same rights as Muslim women.[31]

Under Sharia law women have inheritance rights. However, the share of women and daughters is generally half than that to which men are entitled.[32]

Women do not have any rights to inheritance under customary law.[33]  In addition, under customary legal practices, on their husband’s death, widows are commonly required to marry another man in the husband’s family.[34]  Christian women and men have equal rights in regard to inheritance.[35]

[15] Tønnessen and Roald, (2007) p.22 [16] Tønnessen and Roald (2007) p.22 [17] Ministry of Health, Government of Southern Sudan (2006) p.187 [18] Ministry of Health, Government of Southern Sudan (2006) p.187 [19] UNICEF (2009) [20] Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) (2010) pp.10-11 [21] CRC (2010) para 56 [22] Tønnessen and Roald (2007) p.22 [23] Tønnessen and Roald (2007) p.30 [24] Ministry of Health, Government of Southern Sudan (2006) pp.187, 191 [25] Tønnessen and Roald (2007) p.22 [26] Tønnessen and Roald (2007) pp.22-23 [27] Tønnessen (2007) p.7 [28] Tønnessen and Roald (2007) p.30 [29] Tønnessen and Roald (2007) p.22 [30] Tønnessen and Roald (2007) p.23 [31] Tønnessen,(2007) p.7; Tønnessen and Roald (2007) p.30 [32] FAO (n.d.) [33] FAO (n.d.) [34] Tønnessen and Roald (2007) p.31 [35] Tønnessen and Roald (2007) p.30

Restricted Physical Integrity: 

In Sudan, rape is a crime with a punishment varying from 100 lashes to 10 years' imprisonment to death. [36] There is no law criminalising domestic violence; nor does there appear to be any legislation protecting women from sexual harassment.[37] Spousal rape is also not addressed in the law.[38]

The rape laws in Sudan do not provide adequate protection for women and instead leave women vulnerable to further victimisation. Rape is defined as the offence of “zina” which is intercourse between a man and a woman who are not married to one another and performed without consent. Where a woman is unable to prove that she did not consent, she becomes at risk for being charged with the crime of “zina” because she has confessed to sexual outside of marriage.[39] In February and March of 2007, two women in Sudan were sentenced to death by stoning for committing adultery. In prosecutions for rape, judges may require the sexual act to have been witnessed by multiple men. Further, male testimonies are accepted over female testimonies.[40] Under customary law, rapists are able to escape punishment by marrying their victim, provided the victim’s family agrees.[41] The victim’s consent to the marriage does not appear to be necessary.

Reliable data for prevalence rates of specific forms of gender-based violence against women were not available, although the US Department of State 2010 Human Rights Report and a 2003 UN report both state that domestic violence and sexual harassment are both thought to be common, and widely accepted.  The reports note that police are usually reluctant to intervene in cases of domestic violence.[42]

The long-term conflict in Sudan has significantly increased women’s vulnerability to violence. Although there are no prevalence studies, women have been subject to extremely high levels of sexual violence during armed conflict, perpetrated by state and non-state actors.[43] Displaced women and girls have been at particularly high risk for sexual abuse and rape.[44] Refugees International reports that rape has been an integral part of the pattern of violence that the government of Sudan inflicted upon the targeted ethnic groups in Darfur. Rapes are rarely reported by women due to social stigma. Moreover, there is a culture of impunity for perpetrators, particularly when they are state actors.[45]

Women and girls have also been subject to abductions and kidnapping in Sudan.[46] The US Department of State reports that trafficking is a significant problem with women being trafficked internally for forced labour, sexual exploitation and domestic servitude. Women and girls are also reportedly trafficked to Middle Eastern countries for domestic servitude and Europe for sexual exploitation.[47]

There is no legislation in place to criminalise female genital mutilation (FGM) in Sudan.[48] Female genital mutilation (FGM) is widespread in Sudan, despite the adoption of a national action plan in 2007 to promote its eradication.[49] According to the World Health Organization, approximately 90 per cent of women in Northern Sudan have undergone FGM.[50] Data recorded by UNICEF notes that 45% of women questioned supported the practice.[51]

Women’s physical integrity in Sudan is also compromised by limitations on their reproductive rights. Abortion is only permitted to save the life of the mother. It is not permitted in the case of rape or incest.[52] Access to family planning for women appears to be limited, with UNICEF reporting that only 8 per cent of married women were using contraceptives.[53]

[36] United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) (2003) p.109 [37] UN Women (2011) [38] UN Women (2011) [39] Refugees International (2007) [40] Refugees International (2007) [41] Tønnessen and Roald (2007) pp.31, 33 [42] US Department of State (2011); ECOSOC (2003) p.110 [43] US Department of State (2010) [44] ECOSOC (2003) p.109 [45] Refugees International (2007) p.2 [46] US Department of State (2010); UN Human Rights Committee (2007) para18 [47] US Department of State (2010) [48] CRC (2010) p.10 [49] CRC (2010) p.10 [50] World Health Organisation (n.d.) [51] UNICEF (n.d.) [52] United Nations Population Division (2007) [53] UNICEF (2009)

Son Bias: 

Gender disaggregated data on rates of infant mortality and early childhood nutrition are not available for Sudan.

UNICEF data indicates that 14% of boys and 12% of girls aged 5-14 were involved in child labour between 2000 and 2010, but provides no further information as to the nature of that labour, or gendered patterns of employment.[54]

According to UNICEF, female enrolment in primary education, as a percentage of male enrolment is 83%.[55] According to the Household Survey carried out by the government of South Sudan in 2006 (but covering the whole country), school attendance rates differ considerably between urban and rural areas, and girls’ attendance rates are considerably lower than boys in some areas.[56] The same survey found that at secondary level, however, overall attendance rates for girls were higher than boys – 21.9% for girls, 16.5% for boys.[57] However, the survey notes that among poorer sections of society, girls are less likely to attend secondary school than boys, indicating on-going son bias in regard to access to education among many social groups. 

The Central Intelligence Agency reports that Sudan has a male/female sex ratio for the total population in 2012 of 1.02.[58]

Analysis of sex ratio data across age groups suggests that Sudan is a country of concern in relation to missing women though there appears to be an improvement in recent years.

[54] UNICEF (n.d.) [55] UNICEF (2009) [56] Ministry of Health, Government of Southern Sudan (2006) pp.166, 169 [57] Ministry of Health, Government of Southern Sudan (2006) p.171 [58] Central Intelligence Agency (2012)

Restricted Resources and Entitlements: 

According to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) land rights database, there is no unified legal framework of land tenure in Sudan. Land ownership is governed by a mix of civil law and customary law. Due to discriminatory inheritance practices, women in Sudan have very restricted access to land. Women acquire indirect access to land through their husbands or male family members, with the derived rights being weaker than primary male rights. Often, there are restrictions as to the type of land use, modes of land transfers, access to the land and exclusion from development schemes.[59]

Women’s access to property other than land is equally restricted in that although women can own assets, it is virtually impossible for them to manage such assets freely. According to Sharia law, women must always defer to their husbands or male guardians in administering their assets.[60] When a woman becomes a widow, according to the FAO database of land rights, family members, such as brothers or children, commonly sell the family land and property without the woman’s consent or even without informing her of the action.[61]

Although there are no legal restrictions to women’s access to credit UNDP reports that women have limited access to bank loans and other forms of credit.[62]

[59] FAO (n.d) [60] FAO (n.d.) [61] FAO (n.d.) [62] UNDP (n.d.)

Restricted Civil Liberties: 

Women’s freedom of access to public space is limited for several reasons in Sudan. Firstly, the US Department of State reports that women cannot travel abroad without the permission of their husbands or male guardians. However, this prohibition is not strictly enforced. Secondly, the threat of sexual violence associated with conflict poses a significant obstacle to women’s freedom of movement, particularly for internally displaced persons.[63] Women’s rights activists participating in a consultation exercise on rights to housing in 2004 also reported that in some parts of Sudan, women face day-to-day restrictions on freedom of movement, with male relatives denying them the right to leave the house unaccompanied.[64] In addition, women’s access to public space is limited by the fact that they face intimidation from the Public Order Police, who harass and sometimes arrest women whose dress or behaviour they deem inappropriate.[65]

Freedom of speech, association and assembly are all restricted in Sudan.[66]  The Sudanese Development Initiative is currently engaged in a media-monitoring project to provide information about the coverage of gender issues in the Sudanese media; results will be available in late 2012.[67]

Women and men enjoy the same right to vote and to stand for election in Sudan.[68] In regard to women’s political participation, 25% of seats in the lower house of parliament are reserved for women.[69] In 2010 women were elected to 26% of positions in the lower house and 11% of positions in the upper house.[70] Freedom House reports that women politicians and activists play an active role in public life, but face discrimination and hostility.[71] The United Nations Human Rights Committee has recommended that the government increase its efforts to ensure women’s equal participation in public life.[72]

Women in Sudan have a legal right to paid maternity leave. The entitlement is 8 weeks to be paid at full salary.[73] The right to equal pay is also enshrined in Constitution.[74] There are however restrictions on women’s right to work. Women are not allowed to work between 10pm and 6am with the exception of women in administrative, professional, technical work or health services.[75]  In addition, Muslim married women can be denied the right to work outside the home by their husbands.[76]

[63] US Department of State (2011) [64] Housing and Land Rights Network / Habitat International Coalition (2004) p.45 [65] Osman and Meo (2009) [66] Freedom House (2010) [67] Sudanese Development Initiative (2012) [68] UN Women (2011) [69] Quota Project (2011) [70] Inter-Parliamentary Union (n.d.) [71] Freedom House (2010) [72] United Nations Human Rights Committee (2007) para 13(b) [73] International Labour Organisation (2009) [74] Article 32 (1) Interim National Constitution of the Republic of the Sudan, Government of Sudan (2005) [75] International Labour Organisation (2009) [76] Tønnessen and Roald (2007) p.22


Civil war between the north and south has dominated the history of Sudan since its independence in 1956. In 2005, a peace agreement was signed granting autonomy to the south of the country, and stipulating a unity government, national elections and a referendum to determine the future of the south.[1] In January 2011, this referendum took place, with result indicating strong support for independence for the south,[2] and on 9 July 2011 the Republic of South Sudan was established.[3] However, conflict continues within Sudan in the western region of Darfur, where there is an on-going state of humanitarian emergency, and where the United Nations estimates that between 200,000-300,000 people have died since the start of the current conflict in 2004.[4] Sudan is rich in natural resources, including oil, but remains one of the least developed countries in the world, with high rates of inequality between rich and poor, and urban and rural areas, according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).[5] The World Bank classifies Sudan as a lower middle-income country.[6]

In Sudan, religious courts have existed parallel to civil courts since independence in 1956.[7] However, in 1983, a new government incorporated Sharia law across the country, which had the effect of codifying practices that discriminated against women into civil law.[8]   Customary and Christian religious law – which is dominant in South Sudan – regulates the Southern Sudanese who have remained in Sudan following the secession of the South, principally in regard to personal status.[9] The situation and role of women in Sudan has also been heavily influenced by the history of conflict and political changes. Women in Sudan have been subject to extremely high levels of violence from state and non-state actors.[10] Women also continue to shoulder the burden of the displacement and poverty associated with conflict, and in rural areas, less than a third of women have had access to any form of education.[11]

Under article 32 of Sudan’s Interim Constitution, which was approved in 2005, women and men have equal entitlement to all civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights.[12]  The Constitution also iterates that ‘the State shall emancipate women from injustice, promote gender equality and encourage the role of women in family and public life’, at article 15. However, in October 2011, Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir announced that following the secession of South Sudan, a new constitution would be introduced, based on Sharia law.[13] Sudan is not a party to the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women. The country has signed but not ratified the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People's Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa.[14]

[1] Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) (2010) [2] CIA (2011) [3] United Nations Security Council (2011) [4] Agence France Presse (AFP) (2008) [5] United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Sudan (2012) [6] World Bank (n.d.) [7] Tønnessen (2007) p.3 [8] Tønnessen and Roald (2007) p.4 [9] Reuters (2011) [10] US Department of State (2010) [11] Rural Poverty Portal (n.d.) [12] Article 32 (1) Interim National Constitution of the Republic of the Sudan, Government of Sudan (2005) [13] Reuters (2011) [14] African Union (2010)


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Agence France Presse (AFP) (2008) ‘The educated guesswork of estimating Darfur deaths’, 26 April 2008, AFP, (accessed 10 March 2012)

Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) (2010) The World Factbook: Sudan, available at (accessed 13 October 2010)

Central Intelligence Agency (2012) The World Factbook: Sex Ratio, available at (accessed 14 March 2012)

Committee on the Rights of the Child (2010) ‘Consideration of reports submitted by states parties under article 44 of the convention, Concluding Observations: Sudan’, CRC/C/SDN/CO/3-4, Geneva: Committee on the Rights of the Child. Available at (accessed 10 March 2012)

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) (n.d.) Gender and Land Rights Database Full Country Report – Sudan, available at (accessed 13 October 2010)

Freedom House (2010) Freedom in the World Country Reports: Sudan, online edition, (accessed 11 March 2012)  

Government of Sudan (2005) ‘Interim National Constitution of the Republic of the Sudan’, downloaded from (accessed 10 March 2012)

Housing and Land Rights Network / HABITAT INTERNATIONAL COALITION, UNITED NATIONS Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (2004) ‘Women’s right to adequate housing and land. Middle East/North Africa’, Proceedings of the Alexandria consultation, Cairo, the Alexandria consultations. Available at (accessed 10 February 2011)

International Labour Organisation (ILO) (2010) Database of Conditions of Work and Employment Laws, available at (accessed 31 October 2010)

Inter-Parliamentary Union (n.d.) Parline Database: Somalia, available at (accessed 24 October 2010)

Ministry of Health, Government of Southern Sudan (2006) ‘Southern Sudan Household Health Survey’, available at (accessed 16 October 2010)

Osman, Talal and Meo, Nick (2009) ‘'Whip me if you dare' says Lubna Hussein, Sudan's defiant trouser woman’, Daily Telegraph, 1 August 2009, (accessed 11 March 2012)

Quota Project: Global Database of Quotas for Women (2011) ‘Sudan’, (accessed 11 March 2012)

Refugees International (2007) ‘Laws without Justice: an Assessment of Sudanese Laws Affecting Survivors of Rape’, available at (accessed 16 October 2010)

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Discrim. Fam. Code Rank 2012: 
Discrim. Fam. Code Value 2012: 
Legal Age of Marriage: 
Early Marriage: 
Parental Authority: 
Rest. Phys. Integrity Rank 2012: 
Rest. Phys. Integrity Value 2012: 
Violence Against Women (laws): 
Female Genital Mutilation: 
Reproductive Integrity: 
Prevalance Of Domestic Violence: 
Son Bias Rank 2012: 
Son Bias Value 2012: 
Missing Women: 
Fertility Preferences: 
Rest. Resources & Ent. Rank 2012: 
Rest. Resources & Ent. Value 2012: 
Access To Land: 
Access To Property Other Than Land: 
Access To Bank Loans And Credit: 
Rest. Civil Liberties Rank 2012: 
Rest. Civil Liberties Value 2012: 
Access To Public Space: 
Political Participation: 
Political Quotas: