1994 – Sudanese women’s movements lay foundations to end 20-year war

Sudanese women’s movements are among Africa’s most vigorous. They emerged during the anti-colonial era of the 1940s and 1950s and succeeded in securing rights for women’s political participation, engagement in public life, and equal pay. Even during the repression and conflict of the decades that followed, Sudanese women’s organisations remained instrumental in the fight for peace.

Post-colonial gains for Sudanese women were made by women’s organisations such as the Women’s Union. But in 1971, the hardline Nimeiry regime (1969-1985), created ّits own state version of the Women’s union (Sudan Women’s Union) – one that would not challenge government policies or promote women’s rights. The old WU was forced to work underground.

Nimeiry succeeded in ending the first conflict in the south in 1972, but when Islamic Hudud Laws were introduced in 1983, the conflict between north and south Sudan erupted and women’s rights were sidelined.

At the height of the conflict in the 1990s, Sudanese women from north and south came together to advocate for peace and to demand women’s representation in decision-making and participation in the peace process.

This led to the formation of the Sudanese Women Empowerment for Peace (SuWEP), an umbrella body bringing together women from the two regions and the Nuba Mountains , and from different ethnic, socio-economic and political backgrounds.

SuWEP helped diffuse hostilities between north and south, creating a space and culture where peace, social justice and development could be discussed. SuWEP lobbied political parties north and south listen to each other, and pressed for the inclusion of a women’s agenda in peace negotiations.

After the 2005 peace plan, SuWEP’s focus shifted to the proper and just implementation of the plan, by empowering women to participate in all peace-building and development processes to ensure the recognition and realization of women’s rights.

The results are visible today in the existence of Peace Centers in Nairobi, Southern Kordufan and Blue Nile; in the increased participation of women in peace negotiations nationally, regionally and internationally; in the training of community leaders on peace issues; and in concerted efforts to instill a peace culture in children and youth. SuWEP’s successes can also be seen in the 25% quota for women in the 2010 elections in north and south and the reform of the 2015 rape law.

Today, SuWEP is raising community awareness about women and peace, and ensuring a second generation of young SuWEP women can safeguard the achievements made so far.