Sisterhood Blog

The Price of Wearing Pants

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

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In July Lubna Hussein was arrested, along with a dozen other women and girls, in a Khartoum café — for wearing pants.

Though at first she faced being fined plus being flogged 40 times with a whip, on Monday, according to this story a Sudanese court found her guilty of violating the country’s indecency laws and fined her $200.

She refused to pay, saying that being jailed for a month would provide “a chance to explore the conditions in jail,” and was immediately imprisoned.

Nic Kristof, in his column, describes her as Khartoum’s Rosa Parks.

Hussein is described in a Times news articlce as an “outspoken journalist.” She is a 34-year-old widow who, until this debacle, worked for the United Nations. She resigned so as not to involve it in her case.

Ms. Hussein stood trial wearing the same loose pants in which she was arrested. The judge called only police witnesses against her – she was not allowed to defend herself.

She had lots of support at the courthouse nonetheless – diplomats from several Western nations’ embassies showed up along with what the Times describes as “a throng of female protesters, many wearing pants.” Riot police broke up their demonstration and took away more than 40 women, beating up at least one of them, according to witnesses cited in the Times.

Several bearded counter-protesters in traditional Islamic dress were there as well, yelling “God is great.” Unsurprisingly, none of them was arrested.

God may be great but these men are not, using pretext of their understanding of Divine instruction in order to subjugate women.

They have unfortunate parallels in part of the Jewish community, some of which are detailed in this blog post from last month.

Whenever and wherever government is based on religion, whatever the religion, women suffer.

There’s nothing ironic in my gratitude to God that I live in America where, imperfectly though it may be executed, church and state are separate – and we are free to choose to live in communities where there is no chance of being lashed for wearing pants.

Debra Nussbaum Cohen is a Forward Contributing Editor who some days likes to wear pants and other days prefers skirts


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Kris Soffa Wed. Sep 9, 2009

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