Women & Social Development in Sudan

IN RECENT YEARS, SUDANESE HAVE ENJOYED SUBSTANTIAL PROGRESS IN SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT. OPPORTUNITIES for improving the quality of life have increased in the domains of education, health, information, and home conveniences. Woman, as more or less half the population,and as mothers, have at once played a major
role in the realization of life quality improvement and been the principal beneficiaries. Women have also made significant strides in business and public service, but have yet to gain visibility in sports. Heath and education are where women have gone farthest. More women have entered the universities since the beginning of the 1990s than during the entire period from independence in 1956 to 1989. Numerically, women dominate the health services,
comprising 75% of the personnel, and this has led to an  expanded scope of women’s health care needs, particularly in the gynecology and maternity fields.

At the state of the art Sudan Heart Center, net of 70 degree holding medical professionals, 41 are women, including two professors of anesthesia.Despite the considerable social development progress woman have enjoyed since the beginning of the 1990s, Dr. Nafisa Badri of Afhad University for Women in Omdurman, where degree programs are offered in gender and family studies, stresses that women still have a long way to go to reach the goal of full equality in access to life quality improvement opportunities. Noting that there is a relationship between women empowerment and access to health care, she points out that her studies showed economically dependent women were at considerable risk of their heath care needs not being promptly and adequately met. She believes that alleviation of this situation requires enlightenment of males to their health care responsibilities towards dependent women, as well as increased economic empowerment of women.

This, verily, is the trend. Some Sudanese men, married to degree holding women, insist that their wives should not work. But these educated women are better positioned to demand that, in return for being housewives, their requirements must be adequately met. Among adherents to the extremely conservative schools of Islam, there are some medical doctors not permitted by their husbands to practice. However, these are exceptional cases; as a rule, women professionals are doubling as home keepers.

Sudanese women, these days, constitute 65% of their country’s university graduates and it appears that in the not too distant future, they will numerically dominate the professions. Aside from their numerical dominance of the
health care sector, women are becoming increasingly concentrated in scientific research, academia, and law. Al Ahfad University, Sudan’s first degree awarding institution exclusively for women, evolved out of a girl’s school established
in 1907 and today has over 4,600 students.

In almost every sphere, there is a social development gap between urban and rural inhabitants, but Sudan has quite a number of urban centers disbursed throughout the country. Of the 38 degree awarding institutions, 20 are
outside of Khartoum State and of the 26 states comprising the federation, 21 now have universities. With females comprising the majority of those admitted to universities, women in every part of Sudan are on the ascendancy.
An indication of women’s social progress is the rapid increase in the average age of mothers, from 17 in 1989 to 25 in 1993.

Today, most female secondary school graduates are interested in furthering their education. Many of those who do not qualify for degree programs opt for two-year diploma courses, which are given in various subjects, including accountancy, economics, commerce, computer studies, and teacher training. In the urban centers, home conveniences, such as washing machines, electric blending machines, refrigerators, freezers, and gas stoves
are being made increasingly available to women through credit schemes.

The Savings & Social Development bank also plays an important role in improving family life and providing income opportunities through self-employment. During 2003, Savings & Social Development Bank gave advances amounting to SDD6.685 billion ($25.514 million), of which 17.6% went to households, cottage industries, and handicrafts.
To agriculture and small scale industries, the bank gave advances totaling SDD1.315 billion ($5 million).

Sudanese women stand tall in the legal profession, especially in the Islamic World. In the police force, there are several women major generals. In 1970, Sudan’s Chief Justice Sheikh El Gizouli appointed the first women Supreme
Court justice in a Sharia legal system. Sudan’s first woman judge was appointed in 1963 and today, 67 out of 800 judges are women, in addition to five Supreme Court Justices.

Former Supreme Court justice Farida Ibrahim,who in 1972 became the first criminal court judge in the Arab World, is presently Chief Justice of Khartoum State. She recalls that no defendant or accused had ever asked her removal from the bench, despite the notion held by some Islamic extremists that women are not permitted to be judges. Supreme Court Justice Samia Hamza acknowledges that there is still some conservatism in Sudan regarding women but in the global context, Sudan is very advanced with respect to women’s rights. She observes that, in contemporary Sudan, most white collar work is done by women.

There are several women holding top post in the political arena, including the Legal Fmr. Advisor to the President, Badria Suleman, and the Frmr. Minister of Social Planning, Samia Muhammed. Moreover, there are several
women in the National Assembly, including the chairman of the Information Committee, Kawther Said from South Darfur. Former Minister of Manpower Agnes Lukudu, who in 1972 was the first Southern woman to graduate
from Khartoum University, is currently Sudan’s ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Alu Keir Malwal from South Sudan’s Jongolei State is a Frmr. Federal Minister assigned to the President of the Coordinating Council of Southern States as Special Advisor on Women and Children’s Affairs. In the realm of business, one of Sudan’s largest petrol station chains, Bee Petroleum, is owned and managed by a woman, Eng. Widad Yacoub. Her chain is comprised of nearly 40 state of the art, aesthetically smart, petroleum stations.
Another prominent Sudanese businesswoman is Samia Shabo, Chairman of the Shabo Group and Deputy General Secretary of the Sudanese Businesswomen’s Association.

Journalism is another field where women are well established. In both broadcasting and the print media, there are many outstanding women, representing several generations.

In the book entitled Africa’s Roll of Distinguished Daughters, published by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa in 1996, 10 of the 50 women featured were Sudanese.