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Sudanese Refugee Women Train for Political Leadership


This week on Africa News Tonight, we’re featuring the role of women in peace negotiations, political leadership and post war rebuilding.

Mary Okumu is a U.N. consultant on gender issues that are active in promoting women’s roles in peace making. Okumu is also the executive director of “El Taller,” a human rights group working in East Africa that plays an active role in mediation, conflict resolution, health education and survival skills. She also provides training for Sudanese women living in refugee camps in Kenya and Sudan. Okumu said the training includes developing an understanding of conflict situations they’re involved in, and the human rights issues within those situations, in addition to learning how to survive and to meet family needs.

Okumu said as part of the training she explains that women do not have to be victims and war spectators, and that they can do something to protect themselves while caring for their families. She said she teaches them “how to value one another, how to value respect, and also to understand the root causes of war.” Okumu said the training has effectively expanded civil society’s participation in negotiating peace.

She adds it’s taken four years, but women who’ve been trained are now part of the inter-tribal conflict negotiating process in Sudan. Okumu said these women, from both northern and southern Sudan, were in Washington to plead for an investigation of human rights atrocities in Sudan. And she said that the women were able to undertake this effort because of the training they’ve received. She said women are serving as parliamentarians and government ministers.

Okumu also said she has submitted an affirmative action plan for women to the government, and her proposal has a 50-50 chance of being passed into law. She said if that happens, it will mean more leverage for women. She added that Parliament is looking for new constituencies, “and so we said we will give you the new constituencies if you give us affirmative action for women, so it’s a tradeoff.”

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