Conditions of Women
The 21-year civil war in Sudan has created both hardship and opportunities for women in public life. Thousands have been killed and millions more displaced from their homes during the fighting. Much of the country is mired in poverty, as the conflict has undermined efforts to economically develop. Women and children have borne the brunt of these hardships over the years. But women have also been able to use the war to insert themselves into public life.
The UN estimates that 1.8 million individuals, mostly women and children, have been displaced from southern Sudan to refugee camps in the North and surrounding countries. The recent civil war in the western province of Darfur has also resulted in the displacement of approximately one million people. Women living in these camps have few economic opportunities and are frequently forced to turn to prostitution and the illegal brewing of alcohol to support their families. A UN report on the situation found that 80 percent of women in Omdurman Women’s Prison in Khartoum were there for prostitution or the production of alcohol.
When men join the fighting, their wives are left to become the family breadwinners. In many cases, entire families must work to provide for themselves. Around 90 percent of Sudanese currently live below the poverty line. The civil war has created opportunities for women to find employment, but the economic hardships of war have left most women scraping to make ends meet. Women comprised 42 percent of the labor force in 2003.
The civil war has undermined education in Sudan. In 2000, 50 percent of boys and 42 percent of girls were enrolled in primary education, while only 53 percent of those enrolled completing primary school. Adult female illiteracy was 50.9 percent in 2002, while youth female illiteracy (ages 15-24) was 25.6 percent. Women may have made up 60 percent of enrolled university students, but this was due in part to the high level of military service among men. Statistics for southern states are considerably lower with regard to education. Primary enrollment is estimated to be around 30 percent of boys and 10 percent of girls, and only 7 percent of teachers are qualified to teach. Illiteracy is also higher in the south, mainly due to the effects of the civil war there.
Law of Personal Status
The Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005 and Interim Constitution define Sudan as multi-religious and protect cultural diversity. Article 5 stipulates that national legislation applicable to the southern part of the country shall be based on the values and customs of their people rather than upon Islamic law, which is the basis of national legislation applicable to the northern part of the country. Article 6 requires the state to respect the rights of people to practice their religion.
Some women in Sudan have achieved senior positions in a number of fields. In 1964, Sudan opened the judiciary to women and currently five women sit on the high court. Women have become university professors, doctors, and police and army officers. With 66 of them in the National Assembly, they comprised almost 15 per cent of this group of legislators, and they are allocated at least 10 per cent of the seats in every state council. The government has appointed female ambassadors, and in 2000 the President appointed an advisor on women’s affairs to a cabinet position. In November 2000, the President decreed that women would receive two years paid maternity leave.
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)
As of May 2004, Sudan is not a party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
Several women’s groups were operating in both northern and southern Sudan. The Sudanese Women’s General Union executes social programs through numerous local chapters. The Democratic Women’s Alliance is one of the main women’s opposition groups in the North. Women’s groups were also active in pushing for peace and an end to the civil war.