Ahfad University for Women's Experience in Introducing Women and Gender Studies: The Challenges of the 21st Century

Article excerpt

Balghis Badri

This paper reflects the chronological evolution of women's Studies in Ahfad University for. Women from its establishment as a university course requirement to a fully fledged Institute.

The Institute of Women Gender and Development Studies (IWGDS), previously the Women Studies Unit, came about due to perseverance, achievements and ambitions related to the enhancement and empowerment of Sudanese women. Nonetheless, the Institute is faced with challenges for the future.

Despite setbacks the future looks promising and with an optimistic outlook the Institute is endeavoring to meet its challenges. However, this cannot be accomplished without bearing in mind that change is an achieved, not ascribed status, and working towards enhancing Women's lives is focal to all women.

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Evolution of Women Studies in Ahfad University for Women

Ahfad University for Women was established in 1966 as a non-governmental institution dedicated to preparing Sudanese women for leadership and enhancing women's status towards empowerment, development and full realization of their human capacities.

Ahfad University for Women represents a Sudanese educational experiment, which started as the first girls' school in 1907. and developed into a university college in 1966 and henceforth, into a full fledge university in 1995 with six colleges including schools of medicine and pharmacy.

Women's Studies was introduced as a subject in 1986. A Dutch expert, who was developing the rural extension course at Ahfad University for Women, discussed with the late President and the founder of the Ahfad University the issue of women's studies. Their common insights for introducing change through instilling the will for an agency and for inspiring individuals who can lead it, made him decide to introduce the course to all third year students as a university requirement. The course continued to be promoted and went through the process of modification to reach excellence. The process led to the involvement of many female scholars to teach certain topics in the course, hence creating more awareness and, commitment to women's issues. Further, it has led to capacity building of staff and teaching assistants who are specialized in this field.

In this process, four teaching assistants gained their MA in women's studies, then the Women Studies Unit established the Women Studies, Rural Extension and Population Education programmes as part of the Unit in 1989 with funding from the UNFPA. Since then the unit has been coordinating the teaching of the fourth year university requirement course of "women studies". In February 1997, the Academic Council upon a memo submitted by the Vice President for Academic Affairs decided to shift the Rural Extension program to the school of REED, Hence, the Women Studies Unit became an autonomous body in 1997.

The Women Studies Unit (WSU) was established to lead the teaching, training and research on women and gender studies. One of the major achievements of the unit is the Masters (M.Sc.) Programme in Gender and Development, oriented to mature students committed to women issues and gender studies. The M.Sc. Programme is currently having its fifth batch.. Starting in 1997, the WSU has awarded the M.Sc. Degree in GAD to four batches of women coming from different government institutions, university staff, NGO and international organizations and a few self- financed students, in addition to two Arab students. The duration of the programme is fifteen months, by course and dissertation.

In addition to M.Sc programme, the WSU is responsible for teaching the women and gender studies course to the fourth year students and all other gender training and research activities related to women and gender studies. The goals are formulated with reference to AUW overall policies to create change agents, to instill in students certain human rights values and to develop their skills to be competent in the labor market within their specialization. …