An Invitation to Intellectual Women To Debate And Exemplify Realities

By: Fatima Ahmed Ibrahim

Arabic version published in Al-Fajr, 
Issue No. 79, Sunday November 15, 98

To start with, I emphasize the fact that we welcome constructive criticisms for a simple reason: We, like other people, are subject to mistakes and we have our negatives and shortcomings. In addition, the cause of women is complex and difficult. The process of building up women's movement is even much more complex. However, it is quite easy to criticize {such aspects}. The real difficulty is to build and achieve. What the Sudanese Women's Union (SWU) has thus far accomplished seems to be unclear for a great many intellectual young women for many reasons. A major reason is the occurrence of military coups that always banned the Union. This made of the total public activity performed by the Union only 17 years out of the Union's 46 years of age. Also, the publicity needed for the Union was virtually weakened by meager resources. Despite all
these factors, the SWU made these achievements:-

(*) The Union established branches in most parts of the Sudan, including the southern, western, and eastern regions. With these branches, the Union became the only grass-roots women's organization all over the country.

(*) The Union issued the largest women's magazine in the Sudan which is almost the only one. The Sot Al-Mara' (Voice of The Woman) magazine was banned by all military dictatorships.

(*) The SWU organized women's masses, including housewives. They participated in the struggles against military regimes to restore democratic rule. The martyr Bakhita Al-Haffyan was killed and 2 members of the Union, Mahasin Abdel-Al and Amna Abdel-Ghaffar, were wounded in the October Revolution 1964. Women's masses participated in the Popular Uprising (1984-1985) which overthrew Nimeiri's dictatorship. In the present time, the women led by the SWU and Al-Tajamu Al-Nissawi (The Women's Alliance) wage struggles and demonstrations against the NIF military dictatorship inside the Sudan regardless of

(*) The Union struggled until the right of women to vote and candidacy was recognized in 1964. The Union's president won the election of 1965. She became the first parliamentarian woman in Sudan and the whole continent of Africa.

(*) The SWU's president submitted bills for the realization of women's equality with men in the right to work, wages, retirement, and the other terms of service. All these bills were passed in 1968. From all walks of life, women enjoy to this moment these rights. The law forcing the working women to resign on marriage was also abolished.

(*) The Union succeeded in making some amendments in the family law. Girls were granted the right to choose a spouse, and marriage contracts not based on a girl's consent were nullified by court. Mothers were granted the right to child cuustody for a daughter until marriage consummation, and puberty for sons. A law was enacted and enforced obligating fathers to maintain siblings after a divorce. The law of obedience, which forced a wife to return to the husband's home under police custody even if she proved to the court the harm suffered from such a marriage, was finally repealed.

These, in brief, are achievements made by the SWU alone. They have not yet been accomplished in western countries up to this moment. This is why the United Nations awarded the SWU with the Human Rights Prize of the year 1993. It thus became the first women's organization ever awarded that prize.

This is the SWU's record which I mentioned several times ago and I still write about it now. I will continue to mention this record until the majority of Sudanese women and men know about it. In the light of this record, I turn now to the criticisms of the SWU by a large number of intellectual women. The criticims say that the Union failed to keep pace with contemporary life. The Union failed to attract to its side young intellectual women. The Union has to renew itself and techniques of its work.

On our part, we, as I repeatedly confirmed, accept criticisms. The question is: How do we achieve SWU renewal when no women, intellectuals or graduates, volunteered to specify shortcomings of the Union?

Not a woman presented suggestions, or involved in activities such as lectures, verbally or in writing, for the SWU to revitalize its role. Added to this, the association of universities and high institutes' graduates was established and led by known personalities and university professors at the University of Khartoum. They offered nothing in actual fact. They did not issue bulletins or a magazine. They did not present lectures to enlightenn SWU with the concerns of intellectual women, the modern ideas of women's liberation, and the techniques of recruiting intellectuals and graduates to join the women's movement. Of course, it is not conditional that they participate in the SWU.

They can establish a modern organization as an example. We are ready to support them. We are willing to abandon the forms and styles of work that they reject as reactionary and useless to the cause of women.

This is a warm invitation addressed to all of the young graduate and intellectual women. The invitation is equally opened to the young males to criticize us with objective and specific criticisms, as well as practical suggestions. It would be better if they put forward such a model in reality through the establishment of a modern organization to carry out their modern ideas.

The motive behind this invitation is to bring about a unity into our ideas, to work together to eradicate the injustice and persecution of women. God is the helper.

Fatima Ahmed Ibrahim