KHARTOUM (Sudanow) - Ever since old times Sudanese women have played effective and productive roles in community alongside men. Some Sudanese women were even recognized as fierce warriors on certain occasions and at turning events in Sudan’s history.
During ancient civilization of Nubia, Sudanese women assumed high ranks up to governor position.
In fact Sudanese women have been and are still regarded highly as symbols for national dignity and patriotism. Khalil Farah’s song “Azza” stands as an ever vivid evidence of Sudanese people’s high regard and respect for Sudanese women. It is very rare to find, worldwide, any nation that has a lady’s name as embodiment symbol for all its values and high morals. In this same sense Mehaira bint (daughter of) Abboud has become a national token for bravery and chivalry, and Sudanese brave and daring men are typically labeled as ‘brothers of Mehaira’. This in itself bears great and sufficient evidence of Sudanese women’s imprint on the history of Sudan before independence and after independence throughout various periods of national governments.
With the advent of modern education at the hands of Sudanese pioneers, such as Babikir Badri, Sudanese women have demonstrated great competence and excellent learning skills that overmatched their counterparts’ in some neighboring Islamic and Arab countries. Accordingly, in addition to their traditional roles as small-scale industry and farm producers, Sudanese women assumed new roles as teachers, businesswomen, engineers, MPs, judges and ministers. On certain occasion a Sudanese woman was even nominated as candidate for presidency.
Commenting on Sudanese women’s role in society, expert and political analyst/ Nadir Yousuf al-Siyoufi, told Sudanow that, “Sudanese women have always been at the forefront of community development and enlightenment process. Sudanese women’s role in Sudan’s independence movement was sufficient evidence of their valued contributions. Women have played a great motivating role in the early popular movement towards independence from behind the scenes, as prevalent traditional value systems at the time did not allow open exposure and active participation of women in associations and societies working towards Sudan’s independence such as the Society of the Sudan Union and the White Flag League. Their participation in public life increased gradually since the late nineteen forties when the Young Women’s Cultural Society of Omdurman was established, in 1947, by some female teachers and cultured women pioneers. It was the first women’s organization of its kind that fell into steps with the Graduates’ General Congress (i.e. they took cultural activities as camouflage for political movement). Then other women’s associations followed, where in 1949 the Female Teachers’ Union was established to change later into the Female Teachers’ Association in 1951. Joint coordination between male and female teachers’ unions in the nineteen sixties constitutes a turning point in women’s fierce struggle for democracy, freedom, social justice and equal rights.”
But in 1952, with independence movement gathering more momentum, the Sudanese Female Teachers’ Union and other trade unions played vital role in supporting the political parties’ endeavors, al-Siyoufi said. Sudanese women efforts finally culminated in the establishing of the Sudanese Women’s Union in 1952 as an inclusive body for women’s political, social and cultural activities. The Sudanese Women’s Union played key role in the independence movement.”
In 1952 Sudanese women availed partial political right, as graduates of secondary schools and above were granted right to vote for constituent assembly candidates in the pre-independence transitional period. But in 1964, women were granted full voting and nomination right after their active and effectual participation in the toppling of the first military regime in October 1964. As a result the first Sudanese woman was elected for a parliament seat as independent candidate for graduates’ constituents.
Sudanow would like to illustrate below models of Sudanese women who stood up to colonization and fought their way alongside their revolutionary brothers towards independence. We have opted to start with the first female member of parliament for graduates’ constituents, the late Mrs. Fatima Ahmed Ibrahim (1932-2017).
Mrs. Fatima Ahmed Ibrahim was born in 1933 in the city of Omdurman. Her grandfather had been the first schoolmaster of a school for boys and Imam of a mosque. Her father was a teacher and her mother was one of the few pioneer college-graduate girls at the time.
Fatima’s activist and political spirit took roots early as she joined the Communist Party at very early age and wrote numerous press and cultural articles.
In 1952, she co-founded the Sudanese Women’s Union (SWU) together with some pioneer women leaders of the Young Women’s Cultural Society (which was established in 1947). Fatima was elected as member of the union’s executive council. Fatima worked hard and succeeded in opening the Women’s Union membership to all Sudanese women and in establishing union branches at various regions to nurture a wide supportive base for the union.
The SWU called for women’s right to voting and nomination, women’s equal representation in all legislative political and administrative institutions, women’s right to equal pay for equal work, women workers’ equal right to qualification, training and promotion opportunities, provision of literacy classes for women, provision of free education, women’s right to work in any field, prevention of early marriage and abolition of enforced “house obedience” law.
Another pioneer Sudanese woman model is the late Dr. Khalida Zahir (1926-2015). In addition to her achievements in the medical field, Mrs. Khalida Zahir was recognized as a pioneer Sudanese and African woman activist. She was also the first Sudanese woman to join a political movement. At 20 years old, when she was a first year medical student and student union member, she led a demonstration organized by the Graduates’ General Congress in 1947 against the Legislative Committee. She was arrested and entered history as the first Sudanese girl to be arrested on political grounds.
At that early age she co-founded with Fatima Talib the first girls’ political movement in Sudan, the Young Women’s Cultural Society, in 1946 at Omdurman city. She was also one of the ten women founders of the Sudanese Women’s Union (SWU) in 1952 and she became its first secretary, and then its president in 1958.
In 1949, Khalida Zahir became the first Sudanese woman to join a political party and take part in its covert and overt political activities which rendered her subject to monitoring and pursuance by the colonizing authorities. She was also founding member of the Professional Front during the October revolution in 1964.
Dr. Khalida courageously joined the political movement and medical profession at a very early age at a time when women were forced to stay within the confines of their homes and within a patriarchal society where the young dare not disobey the elders.
Over 60 years of her career as a physician, Dr. Khalida Zahir made many achievements in the fields of mother and child healthcare. She was a first-grade woman educator and fighter against ignorance and harmful practices. She also fought hard to secure women’s right such as women’s right to equal pay for equal work and their equal right to education. Dr. Khalida was known as a brave and solid fighter and revolutionist who stood fast to her principles and values up the last breath.
In recognition of her valuable efforts the University of Khartoum awarded Dr. Khalida Zahir an honorary doctorate in 2001. She was also honored by civil society organizations in 2006.
A third pioneer woman leader model is Fatima Talib Ismail. Mrs. Fatima co-founded with Dr. Khalida Zahir the Young Women’s Cultural Society of Omdurman city, and also co-founded with female members of Al-Mahdi House the Women’s Development Society in 1949. Further, she was active founding member of the Sudanese Women’s Union where she was elected as the union’s first president. Mrs. Fatima Talib was the first Sudanese woman to obtain a bachelor degree from London University. She worked as a teacher and she was the first Sudanese woman to assume the position of a secondary school headmistress. She also helped plan women education in Yemen during her deputation period there. She attended and participated in many women’s conferences and seminars both locally and abroad. She has also authored numerous writings on women’s issues.
A further unaccustomed model for Sudanese people, both in form and context, was that of the late singer and composer/ Hawa Jah Elrasool (Hawa al-Tagtaga). Mrs. Hawa started her artistic career against the British colonizers at a very early age. She used to take part in public demonstrations against the colonizers and sing nationalist patriotic songs to instill and inflame patriotic feelings among demonstrators. She was also the true spiritual patron of popular girls’ songs in Sudan.
Hawa was born in 1926 at El-Rahad Abu-Dakna district in North Kordufan state. She came to Khartoum when she was 14 years old. At that very early age she used to sing popular songs at wedding parties.
Hawa joined the popular struggle movement against colonization until independence was achieved in 1st January 1956, when she wore a Sudanese tobe (sari) bearing the colors of the first national flag. That same national flag still adorns the entrance of her house in the officers’ district of Omdurman city.
Hawa was arrested by the colonizing authority and was deported to Berber city in the River Nile State. The then British inspector labeled her “al-Tagtaga” because she was taking part in every demonstration at all three towns of Sudan’s capital. Another explanation for the title “al-Tagtaga” was that she was likened to a certain species of palm trees that makes certain sort of sound and is prevalent all over the region.
Hawa was known for her soft melodic voice and strong character. She was full of patriotic feelings. She once participated in a demonstration alongside the wife of Sudanese revolutionist Ali Abdel Latif and when she was caught the general commander of the British troops knocked down her front teeth. At one occasion she was shot in the neck during a demonstration. She was also arrested by the British authorities together with Sudanese national singer/ Hasan Khalifa al-Atbarawi while both were performing and singing national patriotic songs on the Workers’ Stage in Atbara. She was subsequently sentenced to a three-month imprisonment term.
Hawa joined the Ashigga (Brothers) Party under the leadership of late / Ismail al-Azhari, which was formed immediately prior to Sudan’s independence. She composed songs praising the party and its leader. She was the first lady to wear a Sudanese tobe bearing the colors of the first Sudanese national flag and she was also the first woman singer to compose songs for independence in 1956. She died in December 2012.
In conclusion, Mr. al-Siyoufi stated to Sudanow that the value of independence is for Sudanese people to live in a comfortably and dignified way within their own country, but unfortunately all consecutive national governments have failed to secure a comfortable and dignified standard of living for Sudanese people in spite of the vast natural resources and unlimited wealth of the country. Independence was not only about the departure of the colonizers, said al-Siyoufi, but was rather about how to utilize the patriotic enthusiasm, the country’s vast resources and its human capacities to achieve the desired goals of infrastructural development, people’s education, economic growth, and above all to sustain our cultural and ethical values and traditions. But unfortunately, added al-Siyoufi, our subsequent national governments failed even in maintaining the infrastructures and few achievements they inherited from the colonizing authorities, to the extent that everything now is in total wreck.
Finally al-Siyoufi expressed hope that, in coincidence with this 63rd independence anniversary, Sudanese politicians would possess necessary political will and stand up to the challenge of redeeming the declining status of the country by embarking upon serious planning and development action in all aspects, especially that Sudan possesses unlimited natural resources and competent human cadres in all fields, where if properly and rationally employed they would definitely attain desired goals.
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