Women as Agents of Change in Sudan

Apr 14, 2014, 12:14 PM

Interview in Sudan on 10 April 2014 with Dr. Balghis Badri, Director of the Ahfad University for Women’s Regional Institute of Gender, Diversity, Peace and Rights, in Omdurman/Khartoum. Question: How has your background from a family of educators helped you shape the work of the Institute that you are in charge of? Answer: Women are agents of change. I took on gender equality work at the university to help build a critical mass of agents for change and solid academicians. Outputs may be quick, such as the production of graduates and research results, or long term, as these women change their lives and that of their families. The best investment society can make, is in women and girls. Universities are forces for change. They bring in new values and principles, and by sharing such knowledge, we are building a strong, global community of people. At Ahfad University for Women we appreciate cooperating with partners in the north, such as Norad, and we believe south-south relationships are also very important. This is why we made this institute regional. I am a believer in women’s solidarity, because this creates change. Women’s plight worldwide is similar. It is inspiring to look to models like Norway, which believes in feminist goals such as equality, freedom and justice. We are learning from these gains and include them in our study materials. We strive for low maternal mortality, high parliamentary participation and high participation in education. Sudanese people should be able to think that this can be done. Question: A female member of the Sudanese parliament is a student at the AUW Regional Institute of Gender, Diversity, Peace and Rights. She says she is using knowledge from her studies directly in her work at parliament and has been approached by other women in parliament who would also like to enrol at the Institute. (Interview with parliament member Botheyna Saad Rhama in another Audioboo post on this site). How does the Institute prepare the member of parliament and possibly others for their work to make laws and policies gender sensitive? Answer: This is linked to our civic activities, public lectures and recruitment of students. We focus both on the executive and the legislative bodies, as necessary change will come from these two bodies. We have six women in ministry positions. Unless we target women in the legislature, they will not be the change agents that the women’s movement would like to have in terms of for instance policies and budgets. Unless there are budgets and resources, women’s empowerment and development will not be achieved. Question: What are some of the reactions you are getting from men in Sudanese society, from media, colleagues at the university, politicians? Answer: There is a diversity of responses. There are allies, people who ignore what we are doing, and those who are in opposition. The opposition is basically from an Islamic discourse, who believe we are bringing something that is anti Islam. Allies are usually from two categories: 1. Genuine believers; or 2. Those who want to let women do things or who see opportunities for funding for research, including with a gender sensitive approach. What I believe is important now is to focus on the young generation of males. Change is needed. There is a gap between the girls who have become more activist and liberal, while most boys are “backward” in their thinking and attitudes toward girls. This will create a problem for the girls, especially at home and later in marriage. One of my struggles is to open Ahfad University for Women also to men, at least for the master program. But there is resistance. Dr. Balghis Badri is a pioneer over several decades of women and development studies in Sudan. Her father founded Ahfad University for Women (AUW) in Khartoum in 1966. Dr. Badri received her PhD in social anthropology from Hull University in the United Kingdom in 1978. She has taught part-time at AUW since 1974, and full-time since 199...