In war-torn Sudan, women wage peace
Recent conferences highlight growing efforts to include women in the struggle to end brutal conflicts.
When the farming tribes of Darfur took up arms more than two years ago against what they saw as a neglectful Arab-dominated government, Samia Ahmed Nihar's brothers, uncles, and male cousins joined the struggle.
But as a lecturer in development studies at Khartoum University in Sudan's capital, Ms. Nihar, a mother of two, took on a different role.
With the government's media machine and its compliant local charities refusing to acknowledge the horrors of Darfur, Ms. Nihar became a secret conduit to ensure that the real story made its way to international journalists and charities in Khartoum. A member of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) rebel group, she risked imprisonment or worse to make sure that the truth of the Arab janjaweed militia and government attacks on civilian villages became known.
"We as women were involved in trying to liaise with NGOs here in Khartoum, keeping them in touch with what was going on there and reflecting the bad situation of women in Darfur," says Nihar, who was in good company at a recent four-day workshop in Khartoum organized by the US-based Initiative for Inclusive Security, a program to involve women in peace processes around the world.
The conference was designed to include women's voices in bringing peace to Darfur, and in efforts to rebuild Southern Sudan – itself the scene of a separate civil war that ended last year.
The challenges the women face are huge, and the Nov. 9-12 conference is something of a milestone in a country dominated by Islamists where few women hold positions of real power. Conference organizers say women are too often excluded from peace and reconstruction talks in favor of men with guns. When peace negotiations focus on the combatants, the real victims often find themselves voiceless and disenfranchised.