In New York, at the Beijing Plus Ten conference, the participants include a unique delegation from Sudan – women from both the north and the south. For many years they were separated by civil war. Now, they are united in their efforts to build a new Sudan. On this International Women’s Day, two members of the delegation spoke about peace and rebuilding efforts in Sudan.
In January of this year, a peace deal was signed ending the decades old civil war that left millions dead and many parts of southern Sudan in ruins.
Some members of Sudan’s delegation to the Beijing Plus Ten conference were heavily involved in peace efforts – and are now working to unite the nation.
Dr. Ann Ito is from the south and is an advisor to the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement Economic Commission on Agriculture and Natural Resource Development. She was a member of the SPLM Peace Mission to Khartoum in December 2003, which helped lead to the final peace agreement.
"To me, that agreement is not only historic because of the way it has been witnessed by the whole world, but basically, this agreement has put to an end four decades of war, which has actually resulted in the death of over two million people, four million people displaced and one of the worst humanitarian situation in the world," she says.
Dr. Ito says it is time for the Sudanese people to “put away the war and begin the healing process.” She says women have and must continue to play a vital role in achieving peace and democracy.
"Democracy is not democracy unless women are party to it. Or I can say it the other way. If you want to see democracy working you should see what role women are playing from negotiations to the period of the implementing of the peace agreement. Yes, women bring a very important perspective," she says.
Dr. Sidiga Washi is another member of the Sudanese delegation at Beijing Plus ten. She’s from the north and is Associate Professor and Dean of Family Sciences at Ahfad University for Women in Omdurman. She is also President of the Babiker Badri Scientific Association of Women Studies. Dr. Washi participated in many peace dialogues between northern and southern Sudanese women.
"Myself, I was involved in this peace movement since 1994, which was a year before Beijing (4th International Conference on Women) actually. That is when we started to train women in peace building, negotiation skills and conflict resolution. And then we went to Beijing and we met our sisters from the south we immediately thought let us sit as women and talk about it. Because men were not able to do what we are intending to do," she says.
She says when she returned from the International Women’s Conference in Beijing, she and others began educating women about peace efforts. Dr. Washi says she saw first hand how many years of war affected southern Sudan.
"I myself was involved in many activities down in the south. I used to go for evaluation of certain projects for some NGOs. And I was really crying every time I go there for the under development, for the lack of schools, of health facilities. And a lot of things need to be done for the south," she says.
Dr. Ito agrees that the south needs a great deal of development. But she says all parts of Sudan need to reap a peace benefit from the war’s end, whether from the Muslim north or the Christian and animist south.
"We believe that the unity of Sudan must be based on the respect of the diversity, of culture, religion and customs of the Sudanese people. But we are saying that there is nothing wrong in being a Christian and there is nothing wrong in being a Muslim – as long as whichever government comes in place accepts the reality of Sudan and respects the culture, the customs and the diversity of Sudan," she says.
Dr. Sidiga Washi also says differences in religion will not be an obstacle to uniting Sudan. She says women must now play a major role in rebuilding trust among Sudanese, adding women in the north and the south have a common experience. They have each lost husbands and sons in the war.