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Tuesday 20th March 2018

Sudan's Women Bid Farewell to Political Marginalisation


Mortada Ahmed

Tue, 10 Sep 2019 17:17 GMT

Women in Sudan are bidding farewell to long decades of political marginalisation and social persecution, after participating in the transition to civilian rule under the interim government that was announced on September 5th, a move that sparked optimism among female empowerment activists.

Analysts see that the appointment of the former Ambassador Asmaa Mohamed Abdallah as the first female Minister of Foreign Affairs in the transitional cabinet as a big stride on the path of female empowerment in the east African country.

This move crowns a decades-long struggle led by Sudanese women to break away from social limitations that has denied them fair participation in the political arena for so many centuries.

The appointment of Asmaa Abdallah as Sudan's Foreign Minister is not the sole victory which women have achieved through the popular uprising that overthrew long-time ruler Omar al-Bashir.

The new cabinet comprises four more female ministers out of a total of 18. In addition, two women, Aisha Mousa and Rajaa Nicola, out of five civilian members have been named to join the Sovereign Council that represents the heads of state, another major step that entitles women to high-ranking positions in political office and the civil service.

Mashaa'r Othman Darag, the media coordinator of the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), a trade union group that spearheaded the revolutionary movement, said that women will hold 40% of seats in the National Assembly and the Council of State scheduled to be established three months from now, according to the constitutional declaration signed by the opposition coalition and military council.

"This is great progress, and we will work on increasing the political participation of women in the post-interim government period, in recognition of their struggle and as compensation for the inequality and injustice they've suffered for decades," Darag told 7DNews.

"Appointing women in high-ranking positions marks the beginning of the end of a long dark era when women were marginalised.

"Women are now on the right track, they should go on with the same brave spirit," Darag said.

Sudanese women were a driving force during the months of nationwide protests that ousted autocrat Omar al-Bashir on April 11th. Now, they have regained their old title as ‘Kendakat’, which disappeared for a long time and which used to describe Sudanese women as brave and pretty at the same time.

The participating professor in Sudan’s Ahfad University, Omdurman, Dr Samia Al-Naqr, an Academic and activist, sees that what was achieved in the formation of the last government represents a big achievement for the country's women.

"Having a female Minister of Foreign Affairs for the first time and women in the Council of Sovereignty ushers in a new era in Sudan and deserves commendation.

"But it's still far less than what they dream of and what they deserve," Dr Al-Naqr said.

In an interview with 7DNews, Dr Al-Naqr, a women's rights activist said that the age of gender inequality was finally over and appointing women in key posts sits in sharp contrast to the policies adopted by al-Bashir’s corrupt Islamist regime, which went to great lengths to disenfranchise women.

"But still our rights are not recognised," She said, adding that women's participation in the current cabinet is the outcome of huge pressure.

"We suffer from the lack of recognition of our role as women, and unfortunately this happens within the elite and the well-educated strata that are influenced by the male-dominated culture.

"We'll go on and will never step back.

"We're determined to attain the rest of our rights and our revolution will go on until we eradicate the old mentality," she said.

The Director of the International Relations Department at the Women's Studies Centre at Afhad, Dr Soheir Ahmed Salah, said that she is not completely satisfied with the percentage of women in the interim government, because it is small compared to the previous era and she considered this "a matter of concern".

"It is good that a woman has been named foreign minister, and that two women out of eleven are appointed in the Sovereignty Council, which stands for 18% of the total number," she said, describing it as "commendable progress"

"However, there are only four female ministers out of the cabinet's 20 members, which reflects a clear decrease, because in the previous era women's participation was 30% in the executive branch and 32% in the parliament," she added.

Dr Soheir said that women should keep struggling in order to achieve the highest percentage of participation possible in all political arenas. She also called on the women appointed in the current interim government to work hard and effectively to prove themselves.

"Their success means the success of all Sudanese women," she said.

Dr Soheir said that the Nubians had an unusually high number of ruling queens, especially during the ancient kingdoms of Alodia and Kosh, but today, women's struggle with men reduced their chances of wide participation in authority.

"We call on the coming governments to entrust them with serious matters, for they are up to any high post," she added.

Mashaar Othman affirms that in the former government, women were allowed posts only in marginal ministries that had no influence on the state's decision-making process.

"But today, women are allowed to hold senior and key posts like that of foreign minister, which men have monopolised since the country's independence in 1956," Othman said

"Picking a woman to serve as a foreign minister is quite unprecedented, not only in Sudan, but in Africa as a whole," she said. "We ought to encourage this move which lays the foundation of a new era."

"One day, women could hold half the governmental seats," she added.

Last July, Sudanese women sought 50% of the transitional cabinet, owing to their vital role in the uprising that overthrew al-Bashir after 30 years in office.

Sudan achieved a successful transfer of power when the opposition coalition and the military signed a landmark deal to share power for 36 months.

According to the agreement, the country will be governed by a transitional ‘Sovereign Council’, an 11-seat body that will operate like a collective presidency until late 2022 when free elections are planned.

The council will be made up of equal numbers from the military and civilian sides, although Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who has led the country since just after Bashir’s removal, will lead it for the first 21 months.

The Council will operate at a level above the administrative government, which will be led by Abdalla Hamdok, an economist with many years’ experience at United Nations agencies, and a firm supporter of women’s rights.