In this paper I’m going to provide a theoretical background on women political participation, then reflect the history of Sudanese women political participation. Starting from the theoretical background I’ll represent the modes of Sudanese women political participation, the obstacle that hinder women political participation, the efforts done to advance women political participation and its outcomes. Finally I’m going to represent my own recommendations to advance women political participation in Sudan.
Theoretical Background of Women Political Participation:
In order to define the whole concept of women political participation we had to break it down. Participation is defined briefly as taking a part. The definition of political participation seems to the extent of what is political many argument and theories has took place in defining what is political; the conclusion of these theories was in the definition of political participation as taking part in the formulation, passage or implementation of public policies. There are three interrelated aspects of political participation; the mode of participation, the intensity of participation and the quality of participation.
The Mode of Political Participation:
Modes of political participation are various and will differ according to the opportunities, institutionalized or informal, available, the interests and the political resources of the participants, the attitudes prevalent in the society. Generally participation implies more positive action than mere social existence. The person may take part in politics by voting or joining a political party or being active in a pressure group seeking to influence policy formation by government. A political participant may be a minister or a parliamentarian; i.e. a member of the executive or legislative institutions.
The Intensity of Political Participation:
The intensity of political participation is directly related to who participate; and how frequent. It refers to the proportion of the population that takes part in political activity; can be measured in depth and width. The bulk of the population participates merely at a fairly minimal level by periodically electing someone who participate intensively and continuously at elite level.
The Quality of Political Participation:
There are two main considerations in assessing the quality of political participation; how far is the participation effective or ineffective? And how far it is real or façade? Political participation can be defined as most effective when the policy outcomes are what intended by participants and the direct result of their actions. Sometimes a person or a party does not participate at all in the decision; the ineffectiveness laid generally against certain modes of participation.
Women Political Participation:
Women political participation starts with the concern and interest in public issues, develops to the involvement in politics and political activism and reaches a peak of participation in elections as a voter or candidate. The participation of women in political and public decision-making is generally recognized both in political and in legislative terms as a basic human right. Despite these gains, gender discrimination remains a formidable barrier to women’s participation in formal decision making processes. Political institutions tend to perpetuate an exclusionary attitude and culture of politics towards women.
Historical Background of Women Political Participation in Sudan:
The history of Sudanese women political participation starts with the struggle against Turkish colonialism when Mehera Bint Aboud and Rebha Alkenaneia were participated in battles and the later worked as messenger for Mahdi all over Sudan. Then the struggle of women continued with their participation in the national movements joining their husbands and families against British- Egyptian colonialism as they were concerned with the communications and the security of the meetings.
The period between 1946- 1955 showed a huge involvement of women in politics; with the increase in girls education and the formation of women associations, although the work of these associations was limited to activities related to the domestic arena like health promotion; maternal and child health, fighting harmful traditional practices and illiteracy. Sudanese women union was formed in 1952 and the Sudanese Communist Party was the first political party that opened its membership to women in the early 1950’s. Sudanese women had claimed their right to vote in the elections of the legislative committee in 1954 and voting was exclusively to secondary school graduates which were approximately 20 women only. Also they had claimed to be represented in Temporary Constitution Formation Committee; Ms. Thuria Eldirdiri the secretary general of the Sudanese women union was a member of this committee. Then Women won the right to vote in election after 1964 revolution which discarded the military rule of General Ibrahim Aboud, also Ms. Fatima Ahmed Ibrahim was the first parliamentarian women elected in 1964. Also the first women judge was hired in 1965 and forced to retired in 1989. A military coup lead by General Gafar Nimiri ended the democratic period in 1969 and appointed Ms. Fatima Abd Elmahmoud, minister of social welfare as the first Sudanese women minster. Then a popular revolution had ended the military regime of General Gafar Nimiri in 1985 and the third democratic era had begun, during the election in1986 only 2 women form the Islamic front were elected although women role in public issues had become more advanced due to their involvement in the relief and programmes to overcome famine. A third military coup laid by the Islamic front has ended the democratic era in 1989 and all parties were prohibited from practicing any political activity.
In 1990 the general Sudanese Women Union has been established to promote religious values in the society with regard to marriage and family care especially between women and protect them from immoralities. The union continues in promoting the agenda of Islamic front and ruling regime till now. The National Democratic Women Gathering was established secretly in parallel with the Sudanese Women Union by parties. The government of the Islamic front specifies 10% of the seats for women in the appointed parliament and they were a part of the executive institutions and civil society. Many women were forced to retire and all women should undergo military training with the popular defense militias.
Comprehensive peace agreement was signed in 2005 between the ruling National Congress Party and Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/ Army and it was another promising opportunity for women when the women movement won the struggle and conserve 25% quota of the parliament for women. Almost all of the elected parliamentarian women in the 2010 election were from National Congress Party. Women had enormous role in electoral process as voters; in 1964 elections the percentage of voting was 72 % for women and 78% for men.
Women Political Rights in the Sudanese Constitutions:
The Temporary constitution of Sudan conserves for women the right to vote. In the constitution of 1969 was the first constitution for Sudan and was concerned with women rights and there were many articles tackling women rights and equality between men and women (articles 19, 41, 55) The constitution of 1998 women rights only stated in chapter 1 of the general guidelines which does not implies law enforcement and so was the transitional constitution of 2005 which was distinct from other constitutions by containing the bills of rights although it does not contain CEDAW but Sudan had ratified the Protocol to the African Charter on Humans and Peoples Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa.
Modes of Sudanese Women Political Participation:
Sudanese Women in Legislature:
Sudanese legislative institutions are the national assembly and council of states, the elected members in 2010 will serve for 5 years. There are 446 elected parliamentarians in the national assembly out of 450 seats; 114 of them are women elected through women lists presented by parties. Actually 112 seats were reserved for women but another 2 women won and increase women quota to 25.56%. Dr. Badria Suliman is heading legislative and law committee. The representation of women has increased from the democratically elected legislative institution in 1965 from 1 woman representing .4% to 77 women representing 17% in the appointed national assembly in 2007 to 25.56 % of women in the elected parliament in 2010. Quota system was necessary to ensure representation of women in legislations.
The Council of States composed of 2 representatives of each state, indirectly elected by state legislature, containing 50 seats. The total current members are 46, 5 of them are women representing 9.62%. The representation of women increased from 6% (2 women) in the council of 2005.
Women in Political Parties:
The first party which opens its membership for women was the Sudanese Communist Party in the fifties of the last century. Women participation in political parties were limited to women, social committees, Huge progress happened in the participation of women in the party structures, now they occupy positions in the executive committees, political secretaries and we find that Dr. Mariam Elsadig, is the Vice President of National Umma Party. The first woman heading a political party in Sudan was Mrs. Hala Ahmed Abdelhaleem, Head of New Democratic Forces Movement in 2006.Now a days we had 3 women heading political parties, after the split in New Democratic Forces Movement in 2010, Mrs. Hala conserve her seat as a head of Modern Democratic Forces Movement, and Ms. Neimat Abubakr was elected by the leading council as a head of New Democratic Forces Movement. The third woman is Ms. Mayada Swar Eldahab, Head of Liberal Party. Yet the membership of women in political parties is very limited, studies regarding women in political parties are very poor, and here by I found a census of women membership in political parties from 1994 states that only 11 % of Umma and Democratic Unionist parties membership are women.
Women in the Executive Authority:
Along the post-independence history; women only occupy the Ministries of Health and Social Welfare as a minister or state minister. No woman at all had occupied the position of secretary general. Although they are occupying 51% of the labour force in federal ministries, 20 % of decision making positions at federal level and 29 % of decision making positions at states level (National Ministry of Labour Force and Administrative Reform, 2004). In 2006 the ministerial level positioning for women were 6.8% at federal ministries (2 women), 6.8% as country minister (6 women) and 16% at state ministries (20 women) (Sudanese Women Union Report 2006). Women occupy positions on diplomatic missions and ministry of foreign affairs since 1970 and upgraded till reached Minister In charge. The first woman ambassador was hired in 2000 and now there are 4 Sudanese ambassadors are women.
Women in the Judiciary:
Women hiring in the judiciary institutions have stopped since 1989. There were 6 higher court judges representing 5.6% and 31 general courts judges representing 26.3%.
Woman as Head of the State:
No women has rule Sudan yet, but fortunately Dr. Fatima Ahmed Abd Elmahmoud, the first Sudanese Minister was also the first Sudanese women combatting on head of state position on 2010 general elections. She was the 11th out of 12 candidates and scored 30,562 votes (.3%) representing Sudanese Socialist Democratic Union Party.
Obstacles that Hinder Sudanese Women Political Participation:
• Starting from the patriarchal culture of the society which is reflected on the social and economic situation of women ending by the offensive discriminatory laws and practices of the authoritarian ruling regime the obstacles that hinder Sudanese women from political participation is lying in between.
• Under authoritarian rule, political activities are held secretly and it is difficult for women to get involved in secret work due to norms and traditions.
• Legislature are unwilling to increase and empower women political participation and their attainment of political rights as well as social, cultural, civil and economic rights and utilizing Islamic religion to exploit and discriminate against women, Sudanese women up to date are controlled by their husbands and families by law. Personal status law act 1992 allow domestic violence and beating of wives and girls, legitimize child marriage from 10 years old, women labour rights are under the control of their husbands will and prohibit marriage without the permission of the woman guardian. Women rights also are perpetrated by Criminal Law act 1992 and State Public Order Laws as Act 1996 of Khartoum state which is mainly targeting women appearance and behavior. Due to the Transitional constitution of 2005 these laws had to be reformed but nothing happened and the status remains quo.
• The quality and Intensity of women political participation is also an obstacle, because of the fact that women represent their parties in the first place and not women, they do not fight for women rights and for better status and their participation in decision making process is usually nil and not real.
• Cultural and social norms confine politics to men and bind women with the domestic sphere (gender division of labour).
• Women do not own the social capital and the economic resources to advance their position or to participate in politics usually.
• Lack of training to women in political parties and the exclusion of women issues in their programs
• Political parties are targeting women as voter, not as actors and can play enormous role in politics.
• The media is playing an important role in erasing the modest women political participation, in Sudan women is rarely presented as politician in the media, even when they image a politician woman they impose their domestic roles and neglect their public activities. This false portrait ensure to the society the gender division of labour and express the vision of women never succeed if they are not mothers and wives although if they are politicians.
Efforts Done to Advance Women Political Participation:
• The efforts to advance women political participation started from the measures taken by women movement from the 1950’s to conserve women right to vote and continue till now in the struggle of national movements to achieve democracy.
• Many women are involved in the public activism within civil society organization. They are struggling to achieve gender equality and attain women’s rights. Civil society organizations and women with in political parties have struggled to advance women political participation by advancing the electoral system to include ‘ women list’ in the last general elections 2010. These efforts conserve 25% of parliament seats for women; although the struggle was to conserve 30% of the parliament seats (least proportion stated in Beijing Declaration).
• UNDP had implemented number of projects to advance women political participation and to educate them about the concepts of democracy, good governance and equity. They also had launched a forum for women in political parties.
• The enlightened elite of politician who choose women as head of political parties had changed the situation of women among these parties and also proof that woman can lead political actions and processes.
• Unfortunately most of these efforts and activities appear only during election time and stop immediately after the results.
Outcomes of these efforts:
• Sudanese women now are participating in all forms of politics. There is increasing awareness among politician women about women rights, democracy and governance. • The conservation of at least 25% of parliament seats for women is regarded a victory of Sudanese women.
• In the Sudanese national assembly, a woman is heading legislative committee (despite her political affiliations) which is also a victory for women as they could claim and be a part of constitution formulation process.
• Achieving gender equality and attaining women rights rely on the first place on the democratic transformation of the society and state institutions, unless all the aspirations and dreams of women political participation can never be attained under this oppressive authoritarian regime. In the last months 100 activist were arrested by security personnel and subjected to torture (Amnesty International), no Sudanese family will encourage women to participate in politics because they will be endanger of being tortured.
• Civil society organizations along with political parties should give more intention to politician women and train them to defend women issues and human rights.
• Government and CSO’s should also advance women education and promote gender equality.
• It is very important for women to be involved in the formulation of permanent constitution of Sudan and ensure the statement of women rights beyond chapter one and the inclusion of the bills of rights.
• Form pressure groups and lobbies to ratify international treaties as CEDAW and ICCPR. Also to struggle against offensive and human rights violating laws as Personal Status Law Act 1992 and Criminal Law Act 1992.
• Media policy reform towards reflecting more positive image of women in politics and avoid stereotypes and the traditional image of women in general.
• Conserve a quota of at least 30% for women in all state institutions and leading positions.
• Encourage researches on the field of women political participation and related fields to attain the required information for advancing the women situation by getting a real picture of their current status.
• Work towards building secular state conserve equal rights for all citizens.
1. Geraint Parry, 1972, Participation in Politics, Manchester University Press, Great Britain, p3-14.
2. Abdalaal Mahasin, 2008, Sudanese Women in the Present and Future, Chapter 4, Ahfad University for Women Press, Sudan, p333.
3. Mahdi Samira, 2008, Sudanese Women in the Present and Future, Chapter 4, Ahfad University for Women Press, Sudan, p351.
4. Abdel Ghadir Badria, 2008, Sudanese Women in the Present and Future, Chapter 4, Ahfad University for Women Press, Sudan, p375.
5. Badri Balghis, 2008, Sudanese Women in the Present and Future, Chapter 4, Ahfad University for Women Press, Sudan, p375.
6. Mahgoub Nazik, 2004, Sudanese Women Political Participation, First Democratic Forum for Arab Women, Sana’a, Yemen, www. Sudanforall.org
7. Nawrani Tayseer, 2010, Sudanese Women Political Participation Challenges and Opportunities, Respect Sudanese Journal for Human Rights Culture and Issues of Cultural Diversity, 12th Issue, November 2010,www.Sudanfor all.org.
8. Badri Balghis, 2008, Sudanese Women Profile and Pathways to empowerment, annex, Ahfad University for Women Press, Sudan, p 197- 211.
9. Badri Hagga, 2002, Sudanese Women Movements, 2nd edition,Khartoum University Press, Sudan.
10.Electoral institute for Sustainability of Democracy in Africa, www.eisaorg
11.National Election Commission, Republic of Sudan, 2010 general elections results.
12.Arab Parliaments, UNDP database.