From The Staff
Regardless of the election outcomes, we need to invest in women
by Judithe Registre
I recently went attended a friend’s wedding in Kenya. I was excited to return to east Africa, not only because I would be part of the wedding and see old friends, but also because I would be traveling to Sudan. I’ve been aching to see Sudan and the women participating in “Women for Women International’s program there. I was particularly interested to visit Sudan as it gears up for the National Presidential Elections ahead of the Referendum in 2011, in which the southern part of the country will vote to determine whether it will remain part of the unified Sudan state or whether it will separate. Much to my disappointment, I was unable to travel to Sudan due to security concerns.
What do the elections mean for the women that we serve in Sudan? Women in Sudan are faced with extreme challenges. Female illiteracy rate hovers at 90%, only 36% of girls in Sudan are enrolled in primary school. Early marriage is widespread and the maternal death rate is among the highest in the world. With their current lack of access and rights to land and property, the women of Sudan are hopeful that the polls this Sunday will bring new opportunities and much needed progress. For the first time in almost a quarter of century, the people of Sudan are being given the opportunity to play an active role in the selection of public officials. The concept of democracy can be problematic in a place like Sudan, but for the average Sudanese woman, going to the polls marks a significant political and social step forward within their society to use their voices in casting the votes.
For the women that we serve, expectations are minimal – women desire access to clean water, land, and education for their children. Women want security, protection and the ability to cultivate crops. What the elections offer is an opportunity to create a supportive environment to enable the entrepreneurial development of the people. The women and the people of Sudan are hungry for change. Change for them means food, education, protection and security.
Regardless of the election’s outcomes, the needs of the Sudanese women we serve do not change. They are asking for the opportunity to create and facilitate a social environment that encourages free movement, entrepreneurship and access to markets that will enable women to be even more productive in their efforts to support the development of their families and communities.
We place so much hope in governments and invest so many resources into them--as we should--but we often forget to do the same with the people, especially with women. To build strong nations, we need to invest in women. Good governance benefits significantly from an engaged and active citizenship. As citizens, women cannot be engaged and active if they are hungry, powerless and vulnerable. So what Sudan needs, both now and after the upcoming elections, is investment. We need to invest in developing Sudan’s women by supporting their skill-building, which will in turn encourage the nation’s economic development.
Women, in the context of Sudan, have suffered severely and continue to suffer today. We need to support them and their ongoing efforts to ensure the progress of Sudan as a whole. Yes, one of the soundest strategy is the development of Sudan’s most marginalized citizens, women and children. The Sudanese people crave deliverables that will translate into real progress and development.
Supporting women will contribute to the foundation of a strong and dynamic civil society, from economic development and to the creation of education and infrastructure. We can build and strengthen the country’s women and its vulnerable population as whole.
Investments from the international community intended to encourage the development of Sudan through the empowerment of women protect the interests of the majority of the population. It is not a matter of personal gain. Women are already actively involved in rebuilding the country through the family and the community, but they lack the necessary resources and skills. With proper investment, the women of Sudan can be a driving force in rebuilding the devastated and war-torn Sudan. Regardless of the election outcomes, we need to invest in Sudan’s women.
A Letter From Judithe
I trust this email finds you well. As you know, I am currently in Sudan. I have been here for almost three weeks. A few of you have asked, “how is Sudan?” and I felt that it would be unfair to say “fine” because “fine” does not really say much when it comes to Sudan. South Sudan isn’t fine; Rumbek isn’t fine. So, to answer your questions, I decided to share with you some reflections from my personal journal.
I don’t like places like this, like Rumbek, Sudan. It reminds me of the inequality in the world, the injustice in the world, the cruelty of humanity, how children are denied the right to realize their dreams. It reminds me of how the brilliance and creativity of some of the world’s people are being lost, of the suffering and pain and vulnerability of women, of the burden that women must carry because of their gender, of my own vulnerability and how sensitive I am to poverty and suffering. It reminds me how unfairly people are treated, how power corrupts, how too many things make me feel helpless. Sudan reminds me of the unnecessary cruelty in the world, like war and conflict; how the innocents are the ones who pay; and how much work we need to do individually and collectively to make the world a more just and fair place. It is painful; it hurts at the core of my being. It hurts my eyes; it hurts my spirits. I cannot stop the feeling. I cannot bear this suffering. Am I alone in what I see? I can’t do this anymore. I don't want to get used to seeing this kind of suffering. I’m afraid to get used to this. The world is unfair and unkind, but it does not have to be.
This place reminds me that I am a globally displaced person. The injustice in the world is stark. The sufferings of women are many. Sudan is opening my eyes to a reality about the suffering of humanity that I have only read about, and I have seen suffering. Honestly, it is too painful to bear witness to this.
On so many levels, the work to be done in Sudan is daunting. The terrain is completely underdeveloped and lacks the most basic infrastructure. Social and economic recovery is at the mercy of a fragile peace, for peace is more than the absence of war. Human resources is a challenge across the board, but for women, it is far worse. There is no power or benefit in being at the bottom of the rung. Women are not just at the bottom, they are below the bottom. Still, I believe that we can make a vital contribution to alleviate the suffering.
The living conditions are quite challenging, to say the least. In light of this and other personal challenges, I take comfort in the work and in the way the women are looking forward to the start of our program. It seems clear to them that I do not work for an organization, that I am part of a movement creating “stronger women for stronger nations.” That’s really what we do. That is the reason I am here.
When we are out in the community meeting with women, we are also looking for women who we could train to be trainers. I am committed to identifying women in the communities who can be trained to eventually work with the organization. This will be critical for the success of the program. The people here have been dealt a bad hand; some have said that the people who left are better off than those that were left behind -- but who is to say, and how can pain and suffering be compared?Despite how difficult things are for me, I am very eager and optimistic about our work and how it will help to change people’s lives, one woman at a time. After opening our office in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, this is not just sheer optimism on my part. I know that it can be done. As a woman in a community assessment once said to us, “If we have knowledge and skills, don’t worry, we will make things happen for ourselves.”
Have a good day!