More on Sudan
Dispatches from the front lines of the women’s movement in Sudan:
• Watch video footage from the Sudanese women arrested at an anti-flogging protest in December. Then read the accompanying story by one of these brave activists.
• Learn about the case of Sudanese journalist Lubna Hussein who was sentenced to flogging in 2009 for wearing pants
• Read female genital mutilation survivor Halima Mohamed Abdel Rahman’s plea to abolish this harmful practice
South Sudan: The Road to Freedom
Women have shouldered the burden of warfare in south Sudan for decades. Now they are voting 'yes' to a new nation and setting the agenda for its peaceful future.
When Southern Sudanese from all walks of life went to the polls from January 9 to 15 to cast their vote in an independence referendum, differences between tribes, socioeconomic classes, and gender were cast aside. Former refugees in Cairo, diplomats in London, hotel staff in Nebraska, mothers of eight and 12 in small villages across the south—all of these Southern Sudanese people were united in what has been referred to as the south’s “Final Walk to Freedom.” More than half of the nearly four million registered voters—in Sudan and in the eight countries where diaspora voting took place—were women. Just over a week ago, across the Afghanistan-sized south, women stood in long lines under blazing sun to cast their votes.
The oldest known voter, Rebecca Kadi Loburang Dinduch, who thinks she is about 115 years old, praised God after casting her vote in the Southern Sudanese capital of Juba, saying if she died now she would be happy because her people would soon be free. Young voters like secondary school student Susan Riak, 19, said she’s proud to be Southern Sudanese and proud of this moment in her people's history. Waiting in line to vote in the University of Juba’s chemistry lab, where a polling station had been set up in between rows of sinks with broken taps, Riak said she thinks independence “will change everything.”
This month’s long-anticipated and hard-won vote was a moment of triumph for Southern Sudan, and the mood of optimism that pervaded Juba during the weeklong vote was a marked change from normal life here, where making ends meet every day is a challenge for most people.
The south’s self-determination vote came as part of a landmark peace deal in 2005 that ended the most recent war between north and south, but the fight for southern respect and autonomy is arguably centuries old. Women have been a part of this struggle, some as armed combatants in the two north-south civil wars fought since Sudan gained independence in 1956, many as supporters of the southern rebel movement, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. Women cooked for soldiers, volunteered as porters, and took care of children in refugee camps in Ethiopia where young new soldiers were recruited and trained.
“We were always getting beaten and having our huts burned,” a slight but wizened woman told me last fall as she stood in her small field of maize in Lakes state—a place where cattle-keeping dominates most aspects of life, from marriage dowries and inheritance to coming-of-age rituals.
But during the seven days of polling, when southerners solemnly and proudly made the choice of their lifetimes, the feeling was different. . . .