North Africa, West Asia

Sudanese women show that peace requires participation not just representation

This December Sudanese women are celebrating the second anniversary of the revolution with mixed feelings of disappointment and hope.

Nazik Awad
17 December 2020
Sudanese celebrate the signing of the peace deal in Juba. Khartoum, Sudan, 8 Oct. 2020
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Mohamed Khidir/Xinhua News Agency/PA Images. All rights reserved

The process of democratic transition which began last year in Sudan has been barely successful in fulfilling its promises for most Sudanese people, especially women. Many in the women’s movement were hopeful with the newfound freedom to speak out and express their demands for peace and equality.

Calls for peace were at the center of Sudanese women’s demands during the revolution in a country that has been in a constant state of civil wars since its independence in 1956. While the process of democratic change remains unstable, the recently signed peace agreement in October 2020 between the Government of Sudan, the Sudan Revolutionary Front, and the Sudan Liberation Movement has created new prospects for change. Although the agreement is not signed by all armed groups, it was considered a major progress towards peace and stability in the country.

Women rights groups inside Sudan led successful and difficult campaigns to ensure the inclusion of women in the peace process that led to the signed agreement. This was one of the rare locally led negotiations between the local parties of Sudan’s conflicts with mediation from South Sudan and some international actors.

Since the passing of the UN resolution 1325 on women peace and security in 2000, women participation in peace processes and negotiations has witnessed some increase but is still not as expected according to UN Women report on women and participation in peace negotiations of 2018.

A tangible impact

The support from UN Women in Sudan, UNDP and Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) was also important to facilitate this participation in the negotiations that took place in Juba, South Sudan for one year.

The text of the agreement reflects the ability of women to include important changes and make these agreements gender sensitive. In track 1 of the peace process, which is the main negotiation process, the participation include a total of 7 women from the Sudanese government, 16 women from the armed Revolutionary Front, and 7 women from the Sudanese People Liberation Army.

During an interview, Samia Argawi one of the members of the women delegation said, “Women rights groups created a delegation of 19 women representing a variety of women from displaced camps and NGOs to participate in track 2 of the peace negotiations. This participation resulted in important impact in the provisions of the peace agreements.”

Track 2 is a way to ensure women participation in peace process outside the formal negotiation table, where women lead discussions and mediation efforts between the conflict parties and ensure gender agenda.

Achievements and fears

The peace agreement reaffirms the commitment of the transitional government’s constitutional document to secure a 40% quota for women participation in the national and regional governments as well as in parliament. It also mentions equal access to the mechanisms of reparation, restitution and transitional justice. These are the main achievements for gender equality in the agreement.

While the achievements seem to be more than the shortcomings, several essential issues could still lead to complete failure of the whole peace process if they are not effectively addressed. Namely, access to justice and accountability, women’s security and protection from sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) are the core fundamentals for creating a sustainable peace.

The text of the agreement reflects the ability of women to include important changes and make these agreements gender sensitive

One of the main concerns regarding the peace agreement is the formation of the local Darfur Security Keeping Forces which consists of 12,000 troops and which will replace the blue hats mission known as the UNAMID peace keeping forces in December 2020.

The new local force does not have any experience in protecting women from SGBV. On the contrary, these forces continue to be heavily involved in SGBV crimes in Darfur. Militias like Janjaweed now known as Rapid Support Forces, will be part of the force. The leaders of these militias are now part of the government and in recent months, women led protests in many areas of Darfur demanding protection from continuous sexual violence committed by these forces.

During an interview, Mohamed Osman, Sudan researcher at HRW explained,

Inter-communal violence, exacerbated by the involvement of government security forces, intensified. The government already pledged to provide protection in light of UNAMID withdrawal and welcoming UNITAMS with its limited mandate. What we are seeing so far is concerning, in terms of attacks on civilians by armed militias and abuses by security forces that occurred in the context of crackdown on protesters in Darfur. The government have to work closely with local groups and stakeholders in implementing its protection plans with the particular focus on SGBV.

The provisions related to the mission and the role of the Darfur Security Keeping Forces did not mention any commitment to women participation in the forces at any level, and did not mention any commitment to protecting women from SGBV, and does not comply with the 1325 resolution. This fact is raising serious questions and concerns about this force that will be working for 24 months in the region as a peace keeping force.

An unprecedented opportunity

Earlier this year the world marked the 20th anniversary of the UN security council’s resolution 1325, arguably the most important resolution on Women Peace and Security. Sudanese women rights groups made their own mark on this celebration by taking important steps to ensure women participation and gender inclusion in the peace making process in the country.

Tahani Abbas, an activist who participated in the making of the National Plan, said during an interview, “Women efforts to secure inclusion in the peace process were extended to develop the first National Plan for implementation of the 1325 resolution adopted by the government in March this year.”

After the armed groups arrived in Khartoum in November, Sudanese women rights groups engaged in continuous dialogue with different stakeholders and female members of the armed movements in order to create a women led monitoring and evaluation mechanism for peace implementation. On 13 December, a high level meeting was organized by women rights groups, female members of armed movements and the ministry of Social Affairs with support from UN Women and UNDP in Sudan to demand the cooperation of the Sudanese government, armed movements and other stakeholders to facilitate and support the creation of the Women monitoring and evaluation mechanism of the peace agreement.

The demands for creation of this mechanisms arise from the need to ensure that women achievements in the peace agreements are fully implemented and the concerns are fully addressed.

Through the process of implementation the transitional government and the armed groups must continue the consultation with women rights groups, and include a gender perspective. The donors and the supporters of the peace building process must ensure gender equality is prioritized in all the support provided to the peace implementation efforts.

Women in conflict areas and all over Sudan have an unprecedented opportunity to challenge the patriarchy’s social and political norms through the achievements in these agreements. A very important part of the journey has been accomplished but the obstacles in the road and the structural changes to ensure gender equality and real women participation not just ‘representation’ must become the highest priority in the peace building process as the country moves forward into the third year after the revolution.

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