Two Sudanese Women's Rights Activists spoke about the challenges of civil society in Sudan, and their commitment to continue working with Sudanese women from the North and South through the upcoming referendum.
Sudan, which has endured over fifty years of intermittent civil wars, will come to an important crossroads this January. As a part of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed in 2005, Southern Sudan will vote in a January, 2011 referendum to decide if they should become an independent state.
The Sudanese activists, Fahima A. Hashim, Director of the Salmmah Women's Resource Centre and Zaynab Elsawi, Program Coordinator for the Sudanese Women Empowerment for Peace (SuWEP) shared how their organizations have been working to build trust and consensus between Northern and Southern women's groups and have been able to work together to address the repression they collectively face under the al-Bahsir regime.
Although Hashim and Elsawi were not cynical they were not hopeful for the situation in North Sudan following the referendum. While power imbalances and customary laws in the South work against women's equality, Southern women's rights are guaranteed in their constitution, and have been able to participate in negotiations. Women in the North do not have this legal tool to use in their efforts, which poses a more difficult situation.
Hashim and Elsawi work focuses on capacity building for women leaders and to advocate for changes to Sudanese laws. One legal area where they have made progress is rape law. Confronted with the dire situation in Darfur, they worked to compile information on the sexual violence taking place in the Western region of Sudan, and bring clarity to the laws dealing with rape.
Their goal for the presentation was to raise awareness of both the situation for women created by the al-Bashir regime, and to show that there is a continuum of resistance from Sudanese women who are organizing and working to fight for their rights.
The discussion was both worrying and inspiring. Northern and Southern Sudanese women, who have witnessed decades of civil war and conflict, have been able to build solidarity and a strong network to fight for equality and peace. In the face of a repressive government and violence they have continued their work bravely and patiently. There is a lot we can learn here in Canada from their commitment, strength and tenacity.