Liv Tønnessen


Sudanese women activists launched a legal campaign in 2009 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 mobilization, Sudan enacted rape reform in 2015. While on the surface 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 Courts’ (ICC) arrest order against Sudan’s president for the use of rape as a war tactic in Darfur, 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. The 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 actors 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.

Author Biography

Liv Tønnessen (PhD) is a senior researcher at Chr. Michelsen Institute (CMI) in Bergen, Norway. Tønnessen is a political scientist researching women, politics and Islam in the Middle East and Northern Africa with a specialization on Sudanese politics. She has conducted extensive fieldwork in Sudan since 2006 and has lectured at Ahfad University for Women. Tønnessen is heading several research projects, among them Engineering Gender Equality: The Effects of Aid to Women’s Political Representation funded by the Norwegian Research Council. She is also the lead researcher on Sudan in several research projects, most recently Political determinants of sexual and reproductive health: Criminalisation, health impacts and game changers funded by the Norwegian Research Council and Women and Peacebuilding in Africa funded by Carnegie and the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.