Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Women at a Crossroads: Sudanese Women and Political Transformation

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Women at a Crossroads: Sudanese Women and Political Transformation

Article excerpt


The 'Arab Spring' is a nuanced phenomenon of significance to African democracy and women's rights in Sudan-north and south. Political transformation processes underway in postrevolution Arab states simultaneously give voice to human rights advocates and rise to Islamist political groups. The reverberating trend presents a risk of deepening Islamist governance in Sudan and reinforcing patriarchal patterns of kinship in South Sudan. It also offers opportunity, north and south, for Sudanese women to form a common agenda, engage politically, promote a vibrant civil society, challenge human rights violations and develop a voice through participation. Given the Islamist upsurge in the region, a review of literature highlights what women in post-revolution Arab states have reported back in terms of the effect the popular uprisings have had on their rights. In light of the outcomes, approaches are advanced that will strengthen Sudanese women's movements and better position them to exploit opportunity for progress in the period of political transformation on the horizon in Sudan and South Sudan.

Keywords: Sudan, Arab Spring, women and political change


The Middle East and North African region has long been marked by political instability, human rights violations and protracted humanitarian crises. Sudan has had a tumultuous history; the root causes of its conflict are structurally embedded in social, political and economic norms. The current fighting along the new border is the newest example of entrenched conflict indicators manifesting into actual war. During 2011, the wider region witnessed a historical transformation-popularized as the 'Arab Spring'-a series of revolutions inspired by socioeconomic and governance issues ranging from persistent corruption, weak political representation, high levels of unemployment, expensive food and fuel, acute water scarcity and a volatile political and security context (UNHCR, 2011). However, the tendency to discuss the 'Arab Spring' as a monolithic phenomenon is dangerous. Granted, the national uprisings have common features such as the demonstrations being youth driven, organized via cell phones and social networking websites to circumvent state controls as well as being marked by an absence of visible leadership making them essentially grassroots movements. The 'Arab Spring' has also largely given Islamism a boost in post-revolution states and others in the region such as Sudan.

Yet the experiences of each Arab state have been distinct. In some countries the military defected from the regime (Tunisia and Egypt) while in others the military by and large stayed loyal to the president (Libya, Yemen and Syria). Some pro-democracy groups succeeded in 'liberating' parts of cities (Tahrir Square in Cairo, Pearl Square in Manama, the University quarter in Sanaa), or in the case of Libya, segments of the state. The Syrian authorities are preventing protesters from establishing any such liberated enclaves. While it would appear each popular uprising began as an internal affair, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) intervened in Bahrain and NATO was drawn into Libya. The 'Arab Spring' as cohesive movement has many nuances that must recognized to avoid a thin reading of the events. This paper aims to take stock of the significance of the 'Arab Spring' phenomenon for African democracy and political transformation in the context of women's rights in Sudan-north and south. The objective is to evaluate risk and opportunity for Sudanese women from the perspective of South Sudan's postconflict reconstruction environment and the Islamist government in the north against the backdrop of regional calls for greater democracy. Examining outcomes for women in postrevolution Arab states allows the author to suggest that the political transformation process embodied in 'Arab Spring' protests is not a model to enhance women's rights. Seeking a way forward, barriers to women's political mobilization are highlighted and approaches are advanced to strengthen women's development and rights. …

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