A Year after Bashir’s Fall, the Struggle for Sudanese Women Continues
In a recent meeting between Sudanese women activists and members of the central committee of the Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC), Sudan’s current ruling coalition, women were given myriad justifications for their exclusion from the country’s political scene. One FFC member said that Sudanese society will not accept a female governor while another renowned politician confirmed that government posts are given to those who are qualified; insinuating that women simply do not have the qualifications to occupy decision-making positions.
As a Sudanese woman who has devoted all her energy to advocacy for political change for the last decade using all platforms at her disposal, I, like many of my counterparts cannot simply brush aside our collective feeling of being used and discarded.
I, like many of my counterparts cannot simply brush aside our collective feeling of being used and discarded.
For years, Sudanese women were the backbone of the revolutionary efforts in Sudan. During the 2019 protests that led to the fall of Omar Al Bashir, they were the force that kept momentum going for over seven months. We were on the streets protesting, keeping protesters safe and sheltering them as gunshots were blasting. We also supervised the logistics of the sit-in in front of the army headquarters. And we did so in an inclusive manner; working through women’s groups, professional unions, political parties, and civil society organizations.
However, despite our leading role in the 2019 protests, Sudanese women were sidelined during the political negotiations process that took place between April and August. This was a direct exclusion, as male-dominated political parties seconded male representatives to represent the coalition in the negotiations team, claiming that they do not have women in their leadership structures. It was also indirect, when the only woman in the negotiations process was sometimes not informed about meetings or purposefully excluded from smaller committees.
When the transitional government was announced in September 2019, less than 25 percent of the cabinet were women. The Sudanese Women in Political and Civil Groups (known as MANSAM), a coalition of women groups, worked for months to prepare a list of qualified women candidates to fill cabinet posts. The problem was not the lack of “competent” women. Not all male candidates were vetted and their credentials were not shared with the wider public. Women candidates on the other hand, were heavily scrutinized and their resumes circulated widely. The political process, led by the FFC committee, was simply guided by a patriarchal mindset that continued to push women out.
Today, as the transitional government rushes to complete the different frameworks for establishing the 300-member national transitional legislative council and appointing governors in Sudan’s 18 states, albeit rather slowly due to the COVID-19 crisis, there is growing bitterness among Sudan’s women leaders and activists in the civil and political arenas regarding their lack of inclusion.
There is frustration that women still have to protest and campaign for their own rights on top of remaining active in the fight for structural and institutional reform during this transitional period. Women in political parties also feel trapped; should they stop working on the national agenda in their parties or should they focus their efforts on making their parties more inclusive and supportive of women’s political participation?
There is frustration that women still have to protest and campaign for their own rights on top of remaining active in the fight for structural and institutional reform during this transitional period.
I have long advocated for working on women’s causes knowing that political change does not itself annul the patriarchal mentalities that are deeply embedded in society and our civil and political structures. For example, throughout the 2019 revolution, we were told to stop talking about women’s issues and focus solely on the national agenda. While some women heeded that advice, others continued to speak up.
One year after the fall of Bashir, I‘m glad to say that women are able to speak their minds and are enjoying a new sense of freedom of expression. However, official and societal structures that have enabled male domination for so long continue to stand and are, unfortunately, supported by the ruling coalition. My message to Sudanese women is to stop enabling these structures and to continue to speak up for women’s rights especially in the political sphere.
About the Author
Middle East Program
The Wilson Center’s Middle East Program serves as a crucial resource for the policymaking community and beyond, providing analyses and research that helps inform U.S. foreign policymaking, stimulates public debate, and expands knowledge about issues in the wider Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Read more
Middle East Women's Initiative
The Middle East Women's Initiative (MEWI) promotes the empowerment of women in the region through an open and inclusive dialogue with women leaders from the Middle East and continuous research. Read more