Prioritizing women’s voices for peacebuilding in Sudan

Since April 2023, two rival armed factions, the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces, have been fighting for control of Sudan and the country’s resources. The conflict has claimed more than 13,000 lives and injured around 26,000, as of January 2024.

According to the United Nations (UN), this conflict has displaced some nine million within the country. In addition to internal displacement, there is economic instability and a collapse of essential services, which disproportionately affects women and girls.

Reports of gender-based violence are on the rise, with many cases of sexual assault, forced marriages and other forms of abuse against women and girls in captivity. The African Union (AU) and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) must intervene and start peace talks in Sudan as soon as possible, despite Sudan being suspended from the AU following a military coup in 2021.

Other Pan-African organizations, such as the Pan-African Council, must support peace efforts to ensure the restoration of democratic values ​​of freedom, justice and equality in Sudan to reduce the loss of life and sexual exploitation of women and girls.

In January 2024, the AU established the African Union high-level panel on Sudan to discuss next steps to implement the AU strategy towards peace and security in Sudan. The panel, chaired by Moussa Faki Mahamat, former Chadian Prime Minister, and convened by the AU Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security, Ambassador Bankole Adeoye, began its work on January 31, 2024.

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The meeting was a positive but overdue step because calls for a ceasefire and peace discussions could have started earlier to prevent the loss of life and abuse faced by women and girls.

In any case, the AU, COMESA and other stakeholders must continue peace talks to reduce further loss of life and displacement. All efforts must bring warring factions to the peace table and explore the potential for power sharing.

The suspicion of choosing sides at this point in the conflict will, in the long run, undermine the unity of the nation and the credibility of the AU and COMESA to intervene in the conflict. An example of the consequences of suspicion is the Sudanese government’s recent suspension of ties with the East African regional bloc: the Intergovernmental Authority on Development.

Violence against women

There is also a need for civil society organizations to document and monitor violence against women during the ongoing conflict. Sustainable peace implies responsibility and justice for victims who have suffered sexual exploitation of any kind.

According to a UN Women report, more than 49 women-led peace initiatives, humanitarian initiatives and civil society organizations have formed a network called the Sudan Peace Platform. This platform unites representatives from various regions, promoting communication for collective promotion led by women from the grassroots.

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On-the-ground assessments and reports from these organizations would serve as evidence to hold military and paramilitary perpetrators accountable.

The AU manual states that the best way to improve the inclusion of women in the peace process is to achieve it comprehensively through “the promotion of women in conflict resolution, from the leadership level to the base”.

However, the first meeting of the AU High-Level Panel on Sudan did not participate in some important women-led organizations and stakeholders. The transition from war to peace represents a critical moment in the shifting terrain of gender power. Therefore, it is essential to have women at the negotiating table. Grassroots women’s groups offer valuable insights into potential areas of compromise for peace negotiators.

women’s participation

Sudan’s de facto leader, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, links his acceptance of solutions to the conflict proposed by the African Union with Sudan’s reestablishment as a full member of the continental bloc. This situation allows the AU to engage with women-led organizations and use Sudan’s aspiration for membership to foster inclusive and lasting peace.

Women’s pivotal role in ending Liberia’s civil war is an example of how important the inclusion of women is to peacebuilding. In Sudan, involving women in all peace talks and negotiations could make a valuable difference in ending conflicts.

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Prioritizing the education of girls and women is another critical way to alter the narratives that justify war. Educating girls makes it easier to counter strange narratives, like inevitable wars, and is the only way to institute change.

Women can educate their children, especially boys, about the realities of war. Education demystifies war propaganda and dispels the myths that justify the conflict, preventing children from being attracted to warring factions. It can also expose the motivations and tactics of evil leaders and promote the understanding that war is neither innate nor inevitable.

At its core, the conflict in Sudan demands immediate and forceful action, requiring significant contributions from regional blocs. Engaging women through ideas from grassroots women’s groups and education for girls and women can lead to sustainable peacebuilding and ending the world’s worst humanitarian crises.

Gideon Adjei-Mawutor is a writer at African Liberty, a US-based think tank focused on promoting individual freedom, peace and prosperity in Africa. He is available in [email protected] or in X like @Giddijei. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of The Chanzo. If you are interested in publishing in this space, please contact our editors at [email protected].