This article was published for the first time on the symposium on Women orgnised by Darb al intifada

Women and Politics in Sudan

Thinking about Women and the NDA

by Ms. Nada Mustafa Ali,

the leader of the Sudanese Alliance Forces (SAF)

and SAF representative in the NDA Executive Office.


Thinking about Women and the NDA

By: Nada Mustafa Ali

Member of Executive Committee

Sudanese Alliance Forces (SAF)

I would like to express my sincere thanks and gratitude to the DA Executive Office, for inviting me to contribute to this important symposium, I can see that it has generated a lot of valuable contributions and provided a space for rethinking the old-Sudan from a gender perspective. I wish to apologize for not being able to 'meet the deadline', and for the lengthy contribution.

I would also like to greet the readers and contributors to Darb Alintifada. Special regards to Nahid Toubia, Sondra Hale and Asma Abdel-Halim. I hope to meet Dr. Nazik Hammad in the near future.

Writing, talking and searching about the Sudan, the identity and background of the writer or researcher always matter, since the politics of identity have always influenced the discourses about the country. As such, I would like to start by identifying myself as a Northern Sudanese woman who had some access to higher education, and as such, I do not claim to be "representative" in any way.

Like many other Sudanese from my generation, until 1995; indeed until Asmara 95, I did not really have much hope in most of the groups constituting the exiled political opposition. Having read the Asmara 95 declaration, I found out (like many others) that it constituted a turning point in the Sudanese political history.

Despite the composition of the NDA, the declaration looked highly progressive and contained clear commitment to 'the separation between religion and politics' as well as an acknowledgment of the right to self-determination of groups which were historically disadvantaged.

Yet there was what came to be known as 'article 5' of the Asmara declaration, which explicitly contradicted not only the international human rights conventions, specially the Conventions Against All forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), but also some of the other clauses (such as clause two) in the Asmara declaration itself !

Had it not been for the stand of the NDA on other 'fundamental issues', my reaction to the article on women would have been similar to that of Dr. Nahid Toubia (from whom I learned a lot) and of Dr. Nazik Hammad to the current position of the NDA towards women's participation. At least there was now a common ground with regard to a number of issues, and that it was up to 'us', "progressive" women and men with a clear gender-sensitive perspective, to turn the declaration into a complete victory. [end note: Of course this is one step. Translating the Asmara declaration into detailed and concrete policies is another].In my contribution to the important debates raised in the Symposium, I will focus on the women's article in the Asmara 95 declaration, and on women's participation in the NDA. This will be at the expense of not providing a deeper analysis on women's human rights and women's subordination in general. But since I have been directly involved with the 'article 5' issue, both in and outside the NDA, I thought it would be helpful to share with the readers of DA some information as to the position of the NDA on this article at present, and to report on some of the activities that took place towards resolving this problematic.

In addressing these two issues, I will also draw on a memorandum which was presented to the NDA LC (Asmara, March 1998), by the Women's Secretariat in SAF, because this memo reflects some of my ideas on these two issues. I will elaborate on the points raised in the memo. The memorandum which was presented to the NDA LC (Asmara, March 98) by the Women's Secretariat in SAF, consisted of four points.

The first point demanded that the NDA acknowledges CEDAW without reservations, in order to ensure that women's human rights are protected after the overthrow of the NIF regime. The memo pointed to the campaign which was organized by SWA in March 98, to which a number of Sudan-L members were signatories [endnote: follow-up and briefings on this campaign took place in Asmara, Cairo and on the pages of Al-Khartoum newspaper. While outcomes of the campaign (and other efforts by various groups and individuals) are presented below, I promise to brief at least the women's forum/list ASAP].

The second point in the memo called for changing clause 5; in part 1. section b. (already provided by DA) and provided the following alternative text: "the NDA acknowledges women's active role in the social, economic and political history of the Sudan; and commits itself to the full realization of women's human rights incorporated in international human right conventions, including CEDAW, without any reservations".Of course this was not the first time that such a request was presented to the NDA, despite the fact that right after the Asmara conference and for a long time, the critiques directed at the NDA by women's organizations have all evolved around the issue of women's "representation" in the NDA, or - to be more specific - the membership of Ms. Fatima A. Ibrahim in the LC (which we did support as individuals). In January 1996 NDA LC meeting (the first meeting to take place after the Asmara conference), a group called fagr Al Sudan (the Feminist Group for Reconstructing Sudan), collected signatures in Cairo, in support of a memo in which the group asked the NDA to change article 5, presenting the above text as an alternative. A number of Sudanese politicians and activists in Cairo signed in support of the memo (including Dr. Mahgoub Al-Tigany of SHRO and Mrs. Zeinab Osman, president of the (former) Sudanese women's Forum in Cairo; among many others).

Despite active campaigning among 'friendly' leadership, the issue was not discussed in the meeting itself. In March 98; the issue was raised again (this time it was discussed at 1:00 am among 'any other issues') THE NDA EXECUTIVE OFFICE WAS DIRECTED BY THE LC TO CONSIDER 'CHANGING ARTICLE FIVE' (resolutions of the March 1998 NDA LC meeting). The executive office formed a women's working group, which consisted of a representative from each political party's women secretariat; together with women's groups associated with political parties in one way or another (at first there were representatives from some independent organizations but representatives of some parties argued that this was an NDA-related matter and as such other women's groups should not be part of the process.

The working group held a number of meetings, which resulted in that the representatives of Sudan Women's Alliance, New Sudan Women's Federation, Sudan Women's Union, Sudan National Party (and Maa'n - an independent organization) agreed on a unified alternative text to article 5, with which representatives from the women's secretariat of the Umma and DUP were not satisfied. Because that issue could only be solved through consensus; the group reached a deadlock.

A consensus was reached that article 5 should be removed, but the problem concentrated around the alternative text. As an outlet, the NDA executive office decided that a women's charter be drafted, in which all groups working under the umbrella of the NDA should participate, and that this charter be presented to the upcoming NDA conference. Another working group was formed, which was similar in composition to the 'article Five' committee, and held a number of meetings.

The group studied CEDAW carefully, and representative of all political groups agreed on including most of the clauses in CEDAW in the charter. Difference was reduced to very few articles and those were bracketed (the most serious of which addressed personal status laws). Groups which had reservations on some of CEDAW articles provided their own vocabulary regarding personal status laws and these were also bracketed. It was agreed that all political groups take responsibility of circulating the charter among their membership in countries other than Egypt and in Sudan; and that workshop should be held to discuss final drafts of the charter with independent women's organizations and activists.

A semi-final draft of the charter was ready on September 27th, but the representative of one of the parties asked for extra time before circulating the document, representatives of other political parties agreed.

So this is the situation as far as "article 5" is concerned, and I would like to disagree with Sondra Hale (with all due respect and warm regards) regarding the importance of this issue. I believe that women's groups (in Cairo and elsewhere) have spent considerable time working on article 5. It is true that this should not be the only issue tackled by women's groups, but this does not mean that time should not be spent on that article.

This issue (of acknowledging women's full human rights without any reservations) is central and IS indeed a fundamental issue that cuts across all aspects of Sudanese women's lives. Otherwise, we might as well end up with a situation which is similar in some ways to what is now happening to women under NIF (the difference will only be in magnitude -- as was the case before 89). Had the NDA acknowledged women's full human rights from the beginning, a lot of effort could have been saved.

SWA's experience with SAF/SNA, around the same issue, might provide an illustration. 1. In SAF's first Preliminary Conference (August 1995); SWA's basic document (which included a commitment to women's full human rights without reservations) was adopted by SAF... that was it. The organization had plenty of time to indulge into other issues. 2. In December 95, A.A. Khalid, leader of SAF, reviewed with the executive bureau issues related to the Asmara conference, in preparation for an upcoming NDA meeting. I wanted to draw the meeting's attention to article 5 and see what we could do about it. I expected that some discussion might take place around the issue so I came prepared with a long list of justifications for changing this article. What was the reaction? Nods (agreeing with the suggestion) and finally Mr. A. Khalid said that he could raise this issue in the upcoming LC meeting if we wanted him to. [endnote: this might form a partial reply to Nazik Hammad's remark on SAF; to which I hope to respond in a separate message].

Going back to the memo, the two other points addressed women's participation in the NDA. Article Three reads as follows:

"...(While) women are often negatively affected by war in a gender-specific way; (they) are also capable of participating in peace talks and in the administration of the liberated areas. As such, we ask the NDA to recommend the participation of women in the IGAD meetings and in the planning process for rehabilitation and administration of the liberated areas; and to ensure women's involvement in consciousness-raising in these areas in a way that would ensure a positive stand towards women's issues that would change their situation and ensure their empowerment. We also suggest the involvement of women with the necessary professional background in the committee for 'preparations for the interim period' so as to ensure that gender is taken into consideration in the process of planning for the (post NIF Sudan)."If we look at the NDA committees and decision-making bodies, we can find female participants. For example, the head of the NDA committee for humanitarian affairs (Cairo) is a woman. When the NDA human rights committee (which falls under the mandate of the Secretary for Constitutional and Legal Affairs) was established in 1995, I was chosen as a rapporteur for that committee. Women have also participated in a number of committees such as the committees formed to support the broadcasting station...etc. However, this involvement usually takes place in random and ad hoc ways. it is important that women's participation in all NDA organs, becomes a declared policy of the NDA.

The final point of the memo continued on the issue of the relation of women's groups to the NDA: "Although women play vitals roles in supporting the struggle both inside and outside Sudan; women have been excluded from processes of decision-making in the NDA; and women's participation is very low in NDA committees. Although we in SAF believe that women should participate in the NDA as Sudanese citizens, through their nomination to centers of decision making by the political parties of which they are members; we do realize the need to find a suitable formula (for the present); through which the (structural and historical) defect resulting in women's exclusion from centers of decision making in the NDA could resolved. Moreover, we believe that the recommendation of the NDA July 97 LC meeting as to the establishment of a 'national women's organization' will (probably not help)....

As such, we suggest (forming...) a working group, composed of a number of women who are active and experienced in women's issues, taking into consideration the 'representation' of the various political forces. This group would then brainstorm on how to enhance women's roles in the NDA, and how to support and improve the already existing bodies such as the Sudanese Women's Forum in Cairo; in order to reach a formula that reflects (as much as possible) the aspirations of Sudanese women both on leadership and grassroots levels. We are willing to provide a detailed plan regarding this issue if we were asked to...."

Whenever I listen to debates on the 'representation' of women, a number of questions would immediately jump into my mind.

The term 'representation' itself is highly problematic: representation of whom? by whom? who is representative? and who is not? do ALL Sudanese women have the same interests, agendas, and priorities? I do believe that gender is a central category of analysis and that women's subordination on the basis of gender should be addressed in its own right. But I also think that gender difference intersects with other categories that do determine in the final analysis, what we perceive as priorities and as interest. I am talking here about racial, regional / cultural and class difference. As such, I believe that it is important for Sudanese women to learn from the experiences of women's movements in other parts of the world, and to recognize our differences first; before claiming that any one of us can speak 'on behalf of all Sudanese women'. This might help us understand the stands of each other, and to establish mutual trust, specially between women from the 'golden triangle', and others belonging to historically disadvantaged groups and marginalized regions. I think one way to work together can be through networks evolving around specific issues. These can provide fora through which we can learn how to work together, and how to differ.

I guess I have exceeded the space allocated for my contribution, so I cannot expand on 'the way out'. Perhaps this can take place in a future symposium, and I would like to thank the readers of DA for their patience.


Nada Mustafa Ali

University of Manchester

Department of Government

Manchester, United Kingdom

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