Women comprise 15 percent of the negotiation delegation, serving as three of twenty representatives for the Two Areas track. However, women are not represented as negotiators on the Darfur track, and all three of the African Union mediators are male.
Sudanese female civil society leaders are working together to relay community priorities to negotiators, provide information relevant to negotiation positions, and broaden the agenda to include issues that will help with recovery. To address ongoing intercommunal violence in Darfur, women’s groups have mediated peace treaties among tribes, nomads and farmers, and displaced and host communities.
Since its independence in 1956, Sudan has been plagued by intermittent civil war. To the west, since 2004, conflict in Darfur has resulted in hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths, high levels of sexual violence, widespread destruction, and the displacement of 2.6 million people, with women and girls disproportionally affected. To the south, the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement paved the way for South Sudan’s secession in 2011, but conflict continues between the Sudanese government and armed groups in Sudan’s South Kordofan and Blue Nile regions (known as the “Two Areas”). Government forces and allied militias have targeted civilians and displaced people from farming areas, while humanitarian access remains blocked. Numerous attempts to resolve the conflicts have failed, including the 2006 Darfur Peace Agreement, 2011 Doha Document for Peace in Darfur, and the 2011 Agreement on the Two Areas. In 2014, the African Union Peace and Security Council launched a “two-track-one-process approach”—bringing parallel negotiations on Darfur and the Two Areas under one umbrella—but progress has stalled.
Despite their contributions to peace-building efforts, Sudanese women have few opportunities to participate in the peace process. Although women serve as three of the twenty negotiators (15 percent) for the Two Areas track, women are not represented as negotiators on the Darfur track, and all three of the African Union mediators are male. The four official civil society observers during the 2016 negotiations on the Two Areas and Darfur were all women representing the Taskforce on the Engagement of Women (the “Women’s Taskforce”), formed in 2013 by Sudanese female civil society and political leaders to provide a channel to the peace process. Women were also underrepresented in previous rounds of talks, including the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, in which no women were included in formal roles, as well as the 2006 Darfur Peace Agreement, for which women comprised only 8 percent of negotiators.
Here are five ways that women made a difference in Sudan’s peace efforts.
Work across lines. The Women’s Taskforce includes Sudanese civil society activists and political party leaders who unite across religious, ethnic, and regional divides to advance shared priorities. They formed the taskforce in response to the “lack of community and specifically women’s voices in the process—the human element.”
Act as honest brokers. Because of their transparency and relationships with communities in conflict-affected areas, Women’s Taskforce members are considered honest brokers with whom the government, political parties, and armed groups can consult and share information. As observers in the August 2016 talks, Women’s Taskforce members served as informal mediators and urged negotiators to continue to participate in the process.
Access critical information. Because women tend to have different social roles and responsibilities than men, they often have access to information and community networks that can improve negotiating positions and highlight potential areas of agreement. Women’s Taskforce members conduct regular community consultations to provide feedback to negotiators, and relay information on the negotiations back to communities. For example, in 2017, when Women’s Taskforce members met with the head of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North, Yasir Arman, they relayed current priorities of local communities in the Two Areas and advocated that talks should not be delayed over humanitarian access. In 2006, when negotiations in Darfur deadlocked over control of a particular river, local women advised the male negotiators—who were rebel group leaders living in the diaspora—that the river in question had dried up several years prior.
Broaden the agenda. In the current Two Areas talks, women have encouraged the negotiators to address access to education, in order to ensure that communities are able to build a stable future. In previous rounds of Darfur negotiations, women delegates recommended the inclusion of provisions on food security, protection for internally displaced persons and refugees, and the prevention of gender-based violence, all of which advance long-term stability.
Broker local deals. In Darfur, over seventy women’s associations lead efforts to resolve tribal conflicts, including a network of women from different tribes who mediate disputes between local authorities and tribal leaders. These women have mediated peace treaties among tribes, nomads and farmers, and displaced and host communities, thereby improving local-level security.
“When women were sitting in Abuja, they completely changed the process . . . because it was practical. . . . The men were positioning who was going to be the president, who was going to be the vice president, and the women were saying, ‘When will my children get food? When will my relatives get water?’ It changed the dynamics.” — Mobina Jaffer, former Canadian Special Envoy to the Sudan Peace Process
- Direct representation at the negotiation table