By Reem Gaafar
For centuries Sudanese women have been pushing the boundaries of the patriarchal society, excelling in fields almost always dominated by men despite the difficulties they face. We searched for the women making an impact today both nationally and internationally, in all different fields: health, environment, women’s rights, arts, filmmaking, political and social activism, engineering, literature and even traditional dance, and came up with over 45 names but had to cut down to 30 for the sake of the reader’s sanity. This list, in no particular order, is just the start.
1. Jalila Khamis Kuku – Political activism: a Sudanese teacher and activist who is the face of the almost invisible conflict in the Nuba Mountains. A member of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement – North, she was arrested by the Sudanese National Intelligence and Security Service in 2013 and accused of treason after posting a video on YouTube speaking out about the atrocities being carried out by the Sudanese government in the region. She was released after a 10-month detainment, and was later awarded the Delegation of the European Union to Sudan’s “Heroes for Human Rights Award 2013”.
2. Professor Balghis Badri – Gender studies and women’s rights: established the Afhad University Regional Institute for Gender, Diversity, Peace and Rights, and is an active member of Regional Centre of Arab Women for Research and Training. She has been fighting gender-based injustice such as violence against women, FGM and early marriage since 1979 and advocating for women’s rights and empowerment in Sudan by actively influencing policy through her research and training.
3. Hanan Mohamed A/Karim Abbas – Corporate Social Responsibility/sustainable development: a leading figure in corporate social responsibility. She trains and teaches young people in the use of innovation in science and technology, management, responsible investment and business ethics, marketing, the environment and sustainability among other things. She is a known supporter of civil youth movements and sits on the boards of several charity organizations and research committees, as well as being a member of the Jury of the Arabic CSR Network.
4. Gada Kadoda – Knowledge management: she was 2010’s African Scholar Guest of the AnnualProgram at the University of South Africa, was on UNICEF’s list of nine innovators to watch in 2014, and received the Sudanese Women in Science Organisation Award in 2015. She is an independent researcher with a Ph.D. in Software Engineering. She is also the founding member of the Sudanese Knowledge Society, and is the author of “Knowledge Production” in the Encyclopedia of Case Study Research.
5. Magda Mohamed El-Sanousi – Women’s rights: a gender and development expert and activist, and is the manager of the Arab Region Gender Equality program that covers Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Iraq, the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Yemen. She is also Chief of Women’s Empowerment Section at the UN Support Mission in Libya. She was Oxfam GB Country Director in Lebanon until June 2013, during which she worked in giving women living in poverty access to legal support and justice, and involving men in the fight against violence against women. She also lobbied to promote gender sensitive budgets and policies, advocating to give widows access to pensions, and on empowering women in remote villages in Egypt to vote and even stand as candidates in the parliamentary election.
6. Taghreed Elsanhouri – Arts/Filmmaking/Social activism: an award-winning Sudanese-British independent filmmaker who has given a voice to the marginalized population of Sudan through her films: ‘All About Darfur’ in 2005, ‘Mother Unknown’ in 2009 and ‘Our Beloved Sudan’ in 2011. In 2011 she established the Cultural Healing initiative as a cultural activism and outreach project in order to promote dialogue and critical reflection on issues of silence and conflict in Sudan. The project produced 8 short films before being shut down by the security authorities in 2013.
7. Awadiya Mahmoud Kuku – Social activism/women’s rights: a tea seller displaced fromKordufan, she is a part of a collective of women who established a cooperative union with almost 8,000 members for those whose income is generated through selling tea and food on roadsides, or engaging in informal labor. The union supports and improves women’s livelihoods and challenges their mistreatment, and provides them with legal support. In 2006 Awadia and several other union members were jailed for 4 years for debt. She recently received the International Women of Courage award from the US Department of State.
8. Fahima Hashim – Women’s rights/political activism: a women’s rights defender/activist, researcher, and trainer, and the director of Salmma Women’s Resources Center. Through the center she has been mobilizing and empowering women and women’s groups in order to influence policy and overcome structural, political and legal obstacles to the advancement of women’s rights, as well as advocating for ending the violence in Darfur through organizing the movement ‘Women Against War’.
9. Nour Hussein – Orphans’ rights/social activism: a leading voice for the stigmatized group of abandoned children in Sudan. Growing up in the Mygoma orphanage, she overcame the barriers of social stigma and excelled in her studies, later winning a scholarship to pursue higher studies in Jordan. She established her center ‘Shamaa’ that advocates for the rights of orphans and children from unknown parents, and challenges the society’s perception of them by raising awareness about their rights and abilities, and about adoption, and helps in obtaining legal documents.
10. Gisma – Traditional: a Sudanese singer and dance instructor who has revolutionized the art of the traditional wedding dance night, and has shaped and reshaped the traditional wedding industry over the years. Due to the trends and standards she has set, wedding singers and instructors – and by association the entire traditional wedding industry – have shot up in cost, style and importance. While many may argue how positive her effect is, she is unquestionably influential.
11. Muna Isam Eldin Osman – Architecture: a prominent name in a field that was heavily male dominated and is still highly politicized. She headed the powerful Dar Consultancy Firm’s design section for several years before moving back to teaching at the University of Khartoum where she was the first woman in the college’s history to be accepted based solely on practical experience and accomplishments. She was the first architect to introduce the curtain wall system in Sudan, and has since designed and supervised the construction of major landmark buildings, and now manages her own consultancy firm.
12. Widad Yagoub Ibrahim – Engineering/micro-financing: a civil engineer and the founder of the petroleum and housing development company ‘Bee’. Established in 1986 with just 3 employees, the company now employs over 800 people with both national and international offices. She also established the first bank for micro-financing in 2008 which has funded over 14,000 families and has 24 branches in different states, and has built several schools for elementary and vocational training in conflict areas. In 2006 she was the first woman to be invited to join the executive committee of the Business Men’s Union, upon which the name was changed to the Business Owners’ Union.
13. Nawal Nour – Health/Women’s rights: a Sudanese-American OBGYN and founder of the African Women’s Health Practice that focuses on both physical and emotional needs of women who have undergone Female Genital Cutting (FGC). She is the recipient of the MacArthur Foundation Genius award, and a Commonwealth Fund/Harvard University Fellow. She conducts workshops to educate African refugees and immigrants on the medical complications and legal issues of FGC, and has published a book educating OBGYNs on the medical management of circumcised women in the United States and Canada.
14. Mai Khidir – Women empowerment: recognizing the difficulties girls and women face in Sudan in reaching their full potential, she established the Alsudaniya Mentoring program in 2014 to connect Sudanese female role models worldwide, accomplished in their academic or professional careers, to young girls living in Sudan. The program includes training young women in leadership skills, career planning, women’s rights and their role in society, organizational skills and time management. It is now in its third year and has involved 75 individuals to date.
15. Yassmin Abdel Magied – Social activism: growing up in Australia, Yassmin founded ‘Youth Without Borders‘ when she was just 16, an organisation that enables young people to work together to implement positive change within their communities and internationally. She has forged a hybrid career as an engineer, social advocate and media commentator. She published her book ‘Yassmin’s Story’ earlier this year.
16. Leila Aboulela – Literature: an award winning novelist who has put Sudan on the African English literature map. She has authored 4 novels as well as several shorts stories and plays. She was the first winner of the Caine Prize for African Literature and is the fiction winner of the Scottish Book Awards, among others. Her work has been translated into 14 languages.
17. Nahid Toubia – Health/Women’s rights: a women’s health rights activist, specializing in research into (FGM). She is the co-founder and director of RAINBO, the Research, Action and Information Network for Bodily Integrity of Women which works in Uganda, South Africa, the Gambia, and Nigeria. Among other posts, she is vice-chair of the advisory committee of the Women’s Rights Watch Project of Human Rights Watch. She has played a prominent role in changing the view of FGM from being a predominantly medical concern to a human rights issue.
18. Niema Albagir: Journalism: an award-winning London-based international correspondent at CNN. She has covered difficult areas such as conflict in Darfur including exposing rape allegations against members of the African Union and being the only Western journalist reporting from Mogadishu during the US bombing of Somalia. In her first documentary with Unreported World “Meet the Janjaweed” she gained unprecedented access to “Hemeti”, one of the main Arab Janjaweed Commanders at the heart of the fighting in Darfur, broadcasting the first documentary evidence of the Sudanese government’s direct involvement with the Janjaweed and the role China’s arms sales to Darfur are playing in the conflict.
19. Zeinab Badawi – Journalism: a Sudanese-British television and radio journalist at the BBC since 1998, and is founder and chair of the Africa Medical Partnership Fund (AfriMed), a charity which aims to help local medical professionals in Africa. She has been an adviser to the Foreign Policy Centre and a Council Member of the Overseas Development Institute. In 2009, she was named International TV Personality of the Year.
20. Hania Morsi – Health: runs the first and only not-for-profit breast cancer clinic in Sudan and the Horn of Africa. Her clinic provides state-of-the-art screening, diagnostic and treatment services for patients from Sudan and neighbouring countries at prices that are affordable and/or subsidized, and sometimes at no cost at all. Since it opened, the centre has seen over 15,000 women and diagnosed 12,000 cancer cases, including some men. In 2015 Dr. Morsi was awarded Her Majesty’s Order of the British Empire.
21. Siham Daoud Angelo – Social activism/education: was one of 1000 women nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005. A native of the Nuba Mountains, she has trained hundreds of women through her brand Zags and Rags, which handcrafts bags, clothes and toys out of bits of material. Her company trains the women – mostly widows and housewives – in sewing and designing, and gives them sewing machines and jobs, as well as eradication of illiteracy by teaching them to read and write.
22. Nesrine Malik – Journalism: One of leading Sudanese columnist in the British press and is a panelist on BBC Dateline London. She writes for the Guardian where she specializes in Sudanese affairs as well as Islamophobia and terrorism. She also writes for the New York Times and Foreign Policy. She has been shortlisted for several awards, and is a member of ‘Creative Access’, an organization that aims to get more minorities into UK media.
23. Salma Almagidi – Sports: the first woman to officially coach a men’s football team in Africa and the Arab World after obtaining her professional coaching license from the Confederation of African Football. Despite her young age (only 25!), she managed to lead her team Alnasr through 3 consecutive wins thereby saving it from dropping into the 4th category.
24. Maisoon Matar – Environmental awareness/ entrepreneurship: is Sudan’s ambassador for Women Entrepreneurship Day and the founding member and director of the recycling company ‘Fandoura’ that produces accessories and household items from waste to raise environmental awareness. She conducts training workshops in prisons, juvenile rehabilitation centers and neighbourhoods. The project partners with several entities such as Ahfad University for Women and the Higher Environmental Committee, as well as working with the UNDP with victims of violence.
25. Niemat Ahmadi – Political activism: the founder of Darfur Women Action Group, a group that works in education for internally displaced children in Darfur, protection of human rights defenders on the ground, as well as the establishment of a Women Empowering Center in Darfur that provides health care, counseling and safe spaces to survivors of sexual violence. She is also Founding Member of the Darfuri Leaders Network, a coalition of more than 20 domestic Darfuri organizations working to promote peace and security.
26. Asma I. El Sony – Health/scientific research: a leading specialist in TB nationally and internationally. She headed the National Tuberculosis Program Sudan Federal Ministry of Health for several years during which major progress in fighting TB was made, then founded The Epidemiological Laboratory, an institute which works in TB control and research, including working to make health services for TB more accessible to poor people (including those affected by the HIV pandemic). She holds several leading positions in organizations, has co-authored 4 books and has over 25 solo and 30 shared publications.
27. Nahla Mohakar – Filmmaking/Human rights: a published writer, filmmaker and human rights activist. She co-directed her first film ‘Diversity’ in 2010 around the referendum for secession of the South, and conducts filmmaking training workshops for human rights activists. During her work with activist Nahid Jabrallah in the SEEMA center for training and protection of women and child’s rights in Sudan, she helped create videos to campaign for legislative reform.
28. Hadeel Ibrahim – Business/philanthropy: the founding executive director of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation to support leadership and governance in Africa, a post she was appointed to at the age of 22. She is a member of several boards and committees, through which she advocates for victims of climate change, preservation of cultural patrimony and a zillion other things. She was recently appointed to the UN Secretary General’s High-Level Panel of experts to address humanitarian funding shortfalls, and has been classified as one of the 20 women who are moving Africa and one of the 100 most influential people under 40 in the Arab world.
29. Kamala Ishaq Ibrahim – Art: the first modern woman painter in Sudan. She is a pioneer in Sudanese and African contemporary art and painting who contributed to creation of the Crystal movement that challenged the art establishment in Sudan and sought to challenge the dominating masculine vision of art in the country.
30. Dalia Haj Omer – Human rights: a peace-building, human rights and conflict management expert and writer with 10 years of international experience in the Middle East and Africa. She works with USAID/OTI-fundedprojects, Human Rights Watch, Doctors Without Borders, UNICEF, The World Bank, Chemonics and Development Alternatives Inc. Her reportage and opinion pieces have appeared in The New York Times and Foreign Affairs. She recently published her guidebook for the Strategic Use of New Media for Peaceful Social Change.
Who else do you think should be on this list? Contact us at ElleAfrique with your suggestions, and follow the hashtags #SudaneseExcellence and #SudaneseWomenRising for more.