On International Women’s Day: Hats Off to the Achievements of the African Woman

Fri, 10.03.2017 20:52

Against the backdrop of the world celebrations of the International Women’s Day on the 8th of March, let us avail this occasion, to pay homage and tribute, to the incredible contributions of the African women across the continent, marking their invaluable social, economic and political achievements, through the course of history.

Spotlighting the above facts, Prof. Aili Mari Tripp of Political Science, Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, says,"…One of the most fascinating developments in African politics has been the increase in women’s political participation since the mid-1990s. Women are becoming more engaged in a variety of institutions, from local government, to legislatures, and even the executive."

African women today are becoming more engaged in a variety of institutions from local government, to legislatures, and even the executive. In fact and since 1980, the proportion of women appointed as cabinet ministers in African countries has increased from 4 percent to 20 percent, placing the region second in the world just behind the America and ahead of Europe. Whereas only one-third of African countries had a woman cabinet minister in 1980, today women are included in the cabinet of almost every African country.

Likewise, in his paper, 'African Women in Public Service', Celestin Musekura, of the University of Texas at Dallas, goes an extra mile, reflecting on how executive political office, poses today, additional and different political challenges, for women than legislative office. Yet, dozens of women in Africa have attained their nations’ highest executive office.

Currently there are three democratically elected female presidents in Africa : Joyce Banda of Malawi, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia and Catherine Samba-Panza of Central African Republic, besides, the indisputable roles played by 'AU' Chairperson Dlamini-Zuma, female foreign ministers like: Maite Nkoana-Mashabane of South Africa, Amina Mohamed of Kenya, Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi of Botswana and Naha Bint Hamdi Ould Mouknass of Mauritania. They and many others do offer a visible proof, of women’s increasing presence in African executive authority.


Women in Sudan:

Glorious past and promising future

Notwithstanding, their big strides and socio-political gains and achievements, women in Sudan were not exceptions, as they were not spared,  in the western politically motivated offensive stereotyping, especially in the last three decades. However, the fact remains, if not the pioneers in all fields, women in Sudan, by all means, were not lagging behind their African sisters. 

Tributes today go to all Sudanese women, who tirelessly dedicated their lives, to the advocacy for women’s rights, who have truly inspired changes in the Sudan, and which shall be remembered, for many generations to come.

The role and influence of women in the Sudan can be traced since time immemorial. Mind-boggling scholarly work, archeological, excavation diggings and discoveries, in the Nubia, in northern Sudan, reveals that Nubians had an unusually high number of ruling strong queens, especially during the golden age of the Meroitic Kingdom. Ten sovereign ruling queens are recognized from that period.

Surprisingly, unlike the rest of the world at that time, women in the Nubia, exercised significant control and from the capital of Meroe, warrior queens, fought for the interests of the Nubian/Kushite Empire. They were constantly raiding their Egyptian neighbors, who were under the subjugation of Rome. On one of these journeys, the Kandace (queen) Amanirenas, when threatened and confronted by the Roman Empire, she led her armies; fought and defeated three Roman cohorts (armies) in the 24 B.C. In addition, the Kandace defaced a statue of Emperor Augustus Caesar; bringing the head back to Nubia as a prize.  

Since the early 1900s – even before Sudan’s independence in 1956 – Sudanese women, have fought for their rights, demanding social and political equality. To the surprise of many here and there perhaps, Sudan today boasts with lots of “female firsts”; the country had one of the first and most active women’s movements in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region during the 1960s–70s. To cite few more, Sudan is the first country in region, to have a female parliamentarian, judge, TV presenter, police officer and many more.

Political activists like Dr. Khalda Zahir and Fatima Talib, formed Women’s Associations in 1947, which focused on educating and mobilizing women. Fatima Talib, was the first principal for a girls’ school and formed the first woman organization in Sudan – the Association of the Educated Girls in 1947 in Omdurman. Whereas, Khalda Zahir who graduated in 1952, from Kitchener Medical School, was not only the first Sudanese woman doctor, first female university student, first chairperson of the Sudanese Women Union, first Sudanese woman jailed for political reasons during colonization reign, but also the first woman to obtain an official membership in a Sudanese political party.

Another Sudanese woman icon, Fatima Ahmed Ibrahim, remains a celebrated milestone in the Sudanese women movement. She was elected to the Parliament in 1968, as Africa’s first woman parliamentarian. Together with the aforementioned activists,  and drawing their inspiration from the nationalist struggle, they founded 'Sudanese Women’s Union' in 1951, which in its turn, became the first women’s organization, to carry out consciousness-raising campaigns and advocating women’s emancipation, opening branches and memberships, for all women in different provinces of the country at that epoch.

SWU, resisted the colonial propaganda and fought to secure for Sudanese women at that early time: the right to legal status, consent to marriage, vote, work, besides, women’s workers’ rights such as equal pay, maternity leave benefits, pensions, and the abolition of laws requiring women to return to abusive husbands.

 In 1955, Fatima Ibrahim, became, the chief editor of union’s first magazine (Woman’s Voice Magazine) with a circulation of about 3,000 copies. The union and the magazine in later stages , played heroic and legendary role, in overthrowing of General Aboud’s military regime in 1965, in what is widely dubbed today in Sudan as ‘October’s revolution’ marked internationally, as the first ever, peaceful popular apprising in Africa and in the Middle East, that succeeds in ousting a military regime. 


 Sudanese women and Pan-Africanism:

In his study 'The role of the Contemporary Sudan in supporting the African Liberation movements' Sudanese Ambassador Dr. Khalid Farah, demonstrates the leading role of the Sudan, in achieving the liberation processes of all the African territories, then under colonial occupation or racial discrimination regimes, and how Khartoum worked, since the late 1950s up to the late 1970s, as a bee hive for virtually, all the African liberation movements, seeking political, diplomatic and financial support, for their legitimate struggle. More importantly, Ambassador Farah, features how within that critical period, leaders such as Nelson Mandela and Oliver Thambo, for instance, visited Khartoum in August 1962, where they were not only, cordially received by the Sudanese leaders, but moreover, they were offered Sudanese passports in order to facilitate their movement, seeking support across Africa.

Reciprocally, Women in Sudan, in the footsteps of their fellow men, having perceived liberation from colonialism, as a prerequisite for their liberation from illiteracy, poverty, inequality and ignorance, and later, for democracy and national development, they went further , to  exhibit an early political consciousness, and audaciously expressed solidarity with African liberation movements. 


 Likewise, SWU also organized rallies and marched to the French Embassy in Khartoum, protesting against the arrest of Djamila Bouhired, the Algerian freedom fighter against the French occupation and demanded her immediate release. SWU also showed in different instances, solidarity with Arab women freedom fighters.

According to The British journalist, David Hoile, in his book ‘women in Sudan’, in 1996, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa published a book entitled 'Africa's Roll of Distinguished Daughters', Of the fifty distinguished African women listed, ten were Sudanese, included academics, lawyers, journalists and psychologists. 

To cite few more examples; Sudanese women became involved in the nationalist politics since the mid-1940s onwards. Women secured the right to vote in 1953. Sudan seen, women ministers in governments since the early 1970s: Dr. Fatima Abdel Mahmoud, was Sudan's first female Minister (the second Africa after the Egyptian Hekmat). She was also the first woman to contest the Presidency in Sudan in the 2010. On the other hand, Sudan brags for having the first female and Lieutenant -General and Major-General in the Sudanese army and police respectively.  

Civil service statistics in Sudan, vindicate how Sudanese women today, have become relatively well- represented in public life; Women in Sudan today constitute: 40% of prosecutors, barristers and attorneys,11% and 14% of the head of Sudan’s diplomatic missions and of Sudan diplomatic corps respectively;  Sudanese female ambassadors, till last year, were full-fledged head of missions in Rome, Geneva, Oslo, Madrid. Sofia and Aswan.

Thanks to their resilience and unrelenting struggle, women in Sudan today are: doctors, poets, teachers, novelists, engineers, fashion designers, politicians, activists and even football coach for men's first league teams. The list of Sudanese women leaders is endless, and against each name that is known and recognized, there are thousands of others who are leaders in their homes and their societies.

Last but not least, there are definitely, many challenges that women in Africa, and in Sudan in particular, still have to tackle, nevertheless, they have already made a lot of giant strides and progress, in ensuring that women are not less capable, to shoulder their roles and responsibilities, in helping to build the continent and take us to even greater heights.

By Mubarak M.Musa Diplomat;

Embassy of Sudan in Ukraine, Kiev

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