Halima Al-Said, 65, sits among her grandchildren in her modest home in a small village in Kordofan province, western Sudan, to recall her memories from 20 years ago and tell the story of the struggle of rural women against the drought that hit the country in 1998 and the natural disasters that followed.
Al-Said told 7DNews how women contributed to finding solutions to the hunger their families suffered due to the lack of rain. To face drought, they came up with creative ideas just to sustain themselves. For example, they used to collect seeds of the "Makheet" tree and boil them and eat then after adding some salt. They also came up with other alternative foods made from melon seeds.
Halima Al-Said embodies the situation of thousands of women in rural areas of Sudan, women who have been burdened with natural disasters and climate change for decades. They are struggling to drive crises away from their societies and live a decent life with limited means to face the challenges ahead of them.
Halima Al-Said is hopeful that effective programs will be developed to empower women in view of their growing role in confronting natural disasters and withstanding burdens through hard labour in agriculture and herding livestock.
"It is time to be treated fairly and be entitled to our full rights, especially following the political change that occurred," she said. "We also need a social change whereby we can feel that we are not left to face crises alone."
Human rights organisations criticise the government's inattention to rural women in Sudan given the challenges they face such as poverty, ignorance, and unfair social traditions. According to local media reports, 70% of rural Sudanese women work in agriculture and animal husbandry to meet the living requirements of their family members. It is also their responsibility to provide shelter and drinking water, and they remain at the front lines during times of natural disasters.
"[Women] played a great role in alleviating the impacts of catastrophic floods which followed the drought that hit Sudan and a number of African countries in 1983 and again in 1998. We also helped alleviate effects of the civil war across the country, which is yet to end" said teacher Halima al-Said.
"We used to walk long distances to collect firewood to rebuild our houses which fell as a result of the rains. We also had to collect tree seeds to cook as food for our families in the time of drought where there is no corn or any other food, while men confined themselves to sleeping, surrendering, and sometimes they had to flee to other areas. They often had no options to satisfy the hunger of the elders and children," she said.
Sudanese journalist and human rights activist, Mohamed El Fateh Hemat, reproached government authorities for failing to realise the price which rural women have been paying as a result of climate changes across the country. They have been the victims of a sequence of natural disasters such as drought and desertification, which all raised death tolls as a result of malnutrition.
"Rural women in Sudan have a long history of struggle in the face of crises, as most rural communities in Sudan rely on women to do household jobs and provide for families, a role supposed to be played by men. Therefore, women need strong empowerment programs to help blow off some steam," Hemmat told 7DNews.
"In Darfur, livelihood patterns have changed due to climate change as a result of the destruction of forests at the time of war. This burden has fallen on women, so they resorted to marginal jobs to support their families after they had previously relied on agriculture and grazing. The government should provide bank funding to rural women, especially those displaced in Darfur, to establish real productive projects and stop relying on relief aid alone."
"It is time for the government to seriously consider finding effective means to empower rural women," said Nahed al-Haj, a Sudanese human rights activist. "Our rural sisters must be rewarded for their struggle to make a living and face disasters.
"It is a sad thing for rural women to continue alone to pay the price of natural disasters and drought. Community behaviour must first change, and then government authorities take charge of their economic and social empowerment with effective financing programs", Al-Haj said.