NEGOTIATING SPACE: Sudanese women's access to vocational education & employment

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NEGOTIATING SPACE:

Sudanese Women’s access to Vocational Education & Employment

Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa


Cover photography: Ahmad Mahmoud Design by: Marce Digital

Published February 2021 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reprinted or reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means electronic, mechanical or other means now known or hereafter invented including copying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers. Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa P.O. Box 2793 Kampala – Uganda www.sihanet.org

©SIHA Network 2020

The information used in this report was collected, compiled and written by SIHA Network affiliated researcher, Sarah Nugdalla in collaboration with SIHA Network staff members in early 2020.

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TABLE OF CONTENTS ABSTRACT.......................................................................................................................................... 4 INTRODUCTION ............................................................................................................................... 5 METHODOLOGY ............................................................................................................................... 7 LANDSCAPE........................................................................................................................................ 9 SUDANESE LABOR LAW........................................................................................................ 11 BACKGROUND ON BGS.......................................................................................................... 13 GENDER, VOCATIONAL TRAINING, EMPLOYMENT & RESISTANCE........................................ 15 GENDER TRAVELS.................................................................................................................. 16 TRANSITIONING INTO EMPLOYMENT............................................................................... 18 CHALLENGES TO WOMEN’S SAFETY IN NON-TRADITIONAL WORKSPACES............... 20 RESHAPING WOMEN’S ACCESS TO VOCATIONAL EDUCATION & EMPLOYMENT................. 23 SHIFTING PERCEPTIONS...................................................................................................... 23 OVERCOMING OBSTACLES, CHANGING THE NARRATIVE.............................................. 25 MAINTAINING MOMENTUM, SECURING FEMINIST FUTURES...................................... 26 CONCLUDING REMARKS ................................................................................................................ 28 RECOMMENDATIONS...................................................................................................................... 29 REFERENCES..................................................................................................................................... 30

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ABSTRACT Drawing on findings from the Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa’s (SIHA Network) Breaking Gender Stereotypes Project Phase II (BGS II), this paper explores urban poor women’s access to opportunities in vocational training and subsequent employment in Greater Khartoum, Sudan. This exploration was carried out through an examination of the interconnected influences of the state, family, socio-religious and cultural norms, and expectations. Analyzing the social, cultural and legal makeup of Khartoum highlights how environmental factors figure into women’s access to diverse employment. The dynamics hindering women’s access to vocational training and employment primarily stem from the Islamist regime’s nation-building project. By looking at the multidimensional oppression directed at women from marginalized regions of Sudan, this report focuses on the interplay of gender, race, and class, and how they affect women’s access to non-traditional employment in Sudan. This report maintains that women participants represent a challenge to gender and cultural expectations about women’s roles in society. The vocational sector has been resistant to women but by moving into this field, women have shattered the ceiling that restricted them. There have been recent shifts in perceptions. As women gain access to education and have greater representation in traditionally male-oriented workspaces, patriarchal beliefs pertaining to women’s ‘correct’ place in society are being erased.

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INTRODUCTION In the months following the powerful revolution of 2019 that toppled the Islamist regime, the city of Khartoum underwent significant changes, and there was a sense of optimism in the capital. One of the chief changes was the repeal of Khartoum’s Public Order Laws, which guaranteed a step forward in the protection of women from the brutality of state violence. However, the deep detrimental impact of the Islamist government cannot be easily reversed simply by its removal and therefore, the issues underpinning the Islamist government must be addressed. Throughout the years of the Islamist regime, women experienced heightened surveillance while out in public, which resulted in their inability to move about freely. The policing of women in the public sphere became normalized through the public order laws that controlled women’s behavior and dress. The increased surveillance of women by the state resulted in a considerable shift in women’s mobility in the public sphere. In terms of employment, this translated into an increase in occupational segregation. That is not to say that segregation in employment did not exist prior to the Islamist government, but rather sheds light on how this divide was intensified by the power of the Islamist regime. Professions were delineated into distinct economic sectors for men and women. Due to the defined boundaries of women’s employment, gender stereotypes have sadly, been maintained. In this context, stereotypes within the laws are solidified to perpetuate the belief that the private sphere is the only legitimate space for women. Following this framework, women are guided toward ‘soft’ employment that often represents an extension of their domestic activities. It is important to acknowledge how distinct groups of Sudanese women experience these stereotypes in the labor market differently. As a result of prolonged civil conflict, poverty, and natural disaster, a substantial part of the rural Sudanese population have moved to urban centers, fuelling the rapidly growing class of urban poor who work in the informal sector. While displaced men dominate construction work, public transport jobs, and manual work, displaced women take on more precarious forms of self-employment that expose them to greater risks, including harassment from authorities. This has created a pipeline for displaced and marginalized women to enter informal and precarious forms of self-employment that are often an extension of their domestic, unpaid labor. Women in the informal sector face immeasurable challenges. In the face of resistance and social pressure to perform stereotypically feminine jobs, women are forced to negotiate their participation in the informal sector. However, despite the challenges facing Sudanese women socially and politically, women have

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shown their agency in resisting the dominant structures that limit their mobility and access to employment by challenging stereotypes and entering male-dominated fields. This includes but is not limited to women livestock traders, rickshaw drivers and mechanics. Utilizing data collected from an in-depth study of SIHA’s BGS Phase II Project, this report examines the project’s contributions with regard to challenging gender norms and stereotypes that affect women’s vocational education and employment in Greater Khartoum, Sudan. This report contextualizes the experiences of women participants by understanding how their social position affects their access to education and employment. By analyzing the structures that cement women’s exclusion and maintain gender stereotypes, this research calls into question the factors that hinder women’s ability to engage in vocational training and to access the workforce. Discriminatory state-laws and policies related to women’s employment and public life that address women’s safety, and access to as well as agency in the workplace, must be studied. This will facilitate discussions on whether practical approaches toward achieving human rights and gender equality, such as providing vocational training for women and access to employment, can have a ripple effect in helping to change social norms concerning gender inequality and women’s rights. In addition to assessing shifts in policy, this research will rely on in-depth interviews and focus group discussions to gauge changes in perceptions, attitudes and behaviors regarding gender stereotypes. The discussion aims to capture the experiences of urban poor women by reflecting on the uniqueness of their experiences and prioritizing their voices. Arguments are careful not to falsely idealize Sudan’s history with regard to gender relations prior to the rise of the Islamist regime. The artificial divide between Sudan pre and post Islamists serves to reduce the complexity of patriarchy and its functions. In order to avoid oversimplification, this research is cognizant of gender inequalities existing prior to Al-Bashir’s government. However, it prioritizes the legal and social landscape under political Islamist rule. Lastly, this report concludes with recommendations to explore new avenues aimed at identifying the best ways to instigate both political and behavioral change toward women in the workforce, particularly in non-gender, stereotypical jobs. Furthermore, this report begins a more nuanced conversation on the larger mission of breaking gender stereotypes for women in post-revolution Sudan.

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METHODOLOGY This study sets out to question patriarchy, which refers to an arrangement of concepts, norms, values, and institutional and behavioral patterns that maintain male dominance. The study also draws attention to the link between women’s lived experiences and their position within male-dominated social spheres. The focus of this study is about the challenges of women trying to hold jobs in non-traditional employment sectors or in male-dominated spaces. The variables that resist women’s entry into areas of non-traditional employment are rooted in particular patterns of society acting in concert to limit women’s participation. The separate spheres ideology, the concept of a ‘public man’ and a ‘private woman’, has been naturalized through the gendering of structures that have not only designated spaces for men and women, but have also determined distinct characteristics for masculinity and femininity. Women who do not adhere to these distinct ideas of femininity are stigmatized as embodying ‘masculine’ traits. Women are unable to actively participate in vocational education and employment because these areas are seen as solely masculine domains. This study maintains that the nation-state is complicit in crafting the boundaries of what is public and private and also, the conceptions of citizenship that produce and uphold racialized, gendered, and sexualized hierarchies of power.1 Borrowing this perception of the nation, this report will identify the way in which the nation preserves hierarchies and fortifies new avenues of marginalization. However, the use of gender alone as a lens of analysis conceals other variables. An intersectional analysis is needed to acknowledge the joint action of systems of oppression on the basis of gender, race, class, sexuality and regional location, by highlighting how aspects of identity intersect and inform power structures. In recognizing the heterogeneous nature of Sudanese citizens, an examination of how Sudanese women across racial, ethnic and class lines experience access and opportunities necessitates an intersectional approach. It is important to note that this does not assume an all-encompassing analysis of Sudanese women’s experiences. Rather, this approach will look at questions centered on how categories of Sudanese women experience access and opportunities differently. In order to account for the various dimensions of social change such as alterations in norms

Hawkesworth, M. (2012). Political Worlds of Women: Activism, Advocacy, and Governance in the Twenty-First Century. Boulder, CO: Westview Press. ¹

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and values, change in performance and practice, and modifications in the public and private spheres, a closer look at the micro-level must take place. As it was too early to assess the concrete shift in policy made as a result of BGS Phase II, changes in perceptions, behaviors and attitudes were assessed through means of interviewing. This was the primary method of data collection and included six semi-structured interviews with employers and employees at the Khartoum 3 Industrial Area, with public and governmental representatives at the Ministry of Education, and with members of the Khartoum Employment office. There were also brainstorming sessions with SIHA staff and three focus group discussions with BGS participants, Vocational Training Staff and SIHA partners (Sudanese Women’s Union, SPCR, Trade Union Employers Network). In addition, there were two interviews with community members (employers, family, neighbors) of women participants who were employed following their training. In this way, the research included accounts of women’s lived experiences as well as the perspective of other actors. The interviews and focus group discussions were conducted in Arabic and followed a semi-structured format, meaning they were guided by a set of focus questions but remained flexible to emerging themes. Focus-group discussions and interviews were recorded, transcribed, and analyzed using thematic analysis. Alert to the ethical considerations required for interviews, consent forms were drafted and signed by the participants. It should be noted that data was collected following the revolution that led to the fall of the Islamist regime in April 2019 and also, after the removal of the public order regime in January 2020. Thus, the public order laws were still in place, during the period of time when the project overlapped with the regime’s final months. Finally, this research recognizes that the political shift in Sudan between the time of the project and data collection may have influenced the perceptions of respondents. In mediating this, the analysis acknowledges this factor when interpreting data and does not attempt to remove responses from the larger conversations happening in the state.

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LANDSCAPE The period of 1989 to 2019 was stamped by the rule of a militarized Islamist regime under deposed president, Omar Al-Bashir. In Sudan, the tactical use of politicizing Islam was shown in the narrow and regressive interpretations of Sharia law employed by the state. Along with the courts’ militant interpretations of Sharia, the shift to political Islam was also evident in the legislature’s implementation of policy packages that quickly permeated public consciousness and effectively, among other things, altered gender relations. A key feature of this was the formation of the public order regime in Khartoum, which included a complete set of policies and an independent agency to monitor that the city was conforming to the Islamist outlook.2 The state-defined notion of religious morality seeped through institutions, the media and the education system. Courts, committees, police and security services were formed and dedicated to the regulation of public moral conduct.3 The increased conservatism driven by the regime, supported, institutionalized, and thus legitimized patriarchal gender roles and relations. In this context, men were granted the right to ‘correct’ women in their state-defined capacity as social and religious protectors.4 As documented in much of SIHA’s work, the brutal public order laws were unequally applied to the public with discrimination rooted in gender, class and race. Though all women were exposed to the law, particular groups, such as alcohol brewers, traders, tea sellers, students and activists were more affected.5 This was due to the nature of their livelihoods and lifestyles that demanded their presence in the public sphere, leaving them more susceptible to the violence perpetuated by the laws. Exploring the law through a gendered analysis reveals how the sociopolitical discourse influenced the ways in which women were able to exist in certain spaces.6 Central to this was the regulation of women’s modes of dress in public. The law prohibited women’s ‘immodest’ clothing or any mode of dress that ‘caused

Nageeb, S. A. (2004). New Spaces and Old Frontiers: women, social space, and Islamization in Sudan. Lexington Books

2

Ibid. pg. 20

3

Ibid. Pg. 20, see Nugdalla, S. (2020). The Revolution Continues: Sudanese Women’s Activism. In Gender Protests, and Political Change in Africa, Palgrave Macmillan Publishing.

4

Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa, Redress Trust (2017) Criminalisation of Sudanese Women: A Need For Fundamental Reform. Retrieved from http://sihanet.org/wp- content/uploads/2018/02/Criminalization-of-Women-in-Sudan. pdf 5

Nugdalla, S. (2020). The Revolution Continues: Sudanese Women’s Activism. In Gender Protests, and Political Change in Africa, Palgrave Macmillan Publishing. 6

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disturbance to the public’s feelings’.7 Additionally, in 1991, a presidential decree required women to adhere to an Islamist dress code by wearing a hijab or headscarf. The vagueness of the law allowed public order officials to use their own discretion to determine the “modesty” of a woman’s dress. The mechanisms of power used in the regulation of women were framed as a dimension of Islamist obligation by the state. The connotations of morality reinforced in the law differentiated between moral and immoral citizens, and was driven by the hierarchies in gender, class and ethnicity. The arbitrary nature of the laws and their vague language, facilitate the surveillance and criminalization of Sudanese women on the basis of Islamist norms under the guise of genuine religious ideals. The environment created by the Public Order Regime prevented women from carrying out full public lives as it limited their mobility, their right to freely participate in the cultural life of the community, their right to freedom of expression and assembly, and to political participation.8 At the heart of the Islamization of public conduct was the Arabization effort on the part of the state to homogenize the diverse population of Sudan. The pre-existing regional hierarchies in Sudan intensified during the regime change resulting in the increased marginalization of non-Muslim and non-Arab Sudanese groups. The forced Arabization of the population formed avenues, which allowed the silencing and erasure of groups identified as non-Arab.9 However, these regional hierarchies pre-existed the Islamist regime and in fact, had its roots in colonial history. The post-independence era in Sudan was characterized by the adoption of the European nation-state model, which allowed for the establishment of a hierarchy. The Khartoum elite ensured dominance over the state apparatus by using violent methods. Indigenous mechanisms of governance and policies were undermined which cemented their marginalization.10 The continuation of colonial political ideology between 1989-2019 heightened the reality of the hierarchy for Sudanese people, which ultimately resulted in increased marginalization and oppression. This particularly harmed the peripheries where the welfare state is virtually absent. The direction of all the country’s resources during this time-period went towards unnecessary and unjust wars against the people of Southern and

7  Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa, Redress Trust (2017) Criminalisation of Sudanese Women: A Need For Fundamental Reform. Retrieved from http://sihanet.org/wp- content/uploads/2018/02/Criminalization-of-Women-in-Sudan. pdf

Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (2009) Beyond Trousers. Retrieved from http://sihanet.org/faq/beyondtrousers/

8

9  Osman, A. (2014). Beyond the pan-Africanist agenda: Sudanese women’s movement, achievements and challenges. Feminist Africa, (19), 43. Pg. 53

Elsheikh, Elsadig (2008). “Darfur: The Violence of Geopolitics.” Kirwan Institute, August 2008, pg. 5.

10

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Western Sudan. These wars contributed to paralyzing social programs such as healthcare, education, sanitation and civil society institutions. In addition to prolonged inner conflicts, poverty and natural disaster forced a large part of the rural population to migrate to urban centers, especially to Khartoum. The deliberate eradication of Sudan’s diversity from social and cultural life, contributed to the increased discrimination and marginalization of certain groups in society, putting women from non-Arab, non-Muslim communities in a particularly vulnerable position. The general, social position of Sudanese women, particularly urban poor women, serves to add context to the following discussion on the reality of women’s earning opportunities in light of these dynamics.

SUDANESE LABOR LAW Women in Sudan are doubly restricted. Not only do they suffer labor market segregation but they also face occupational segregation, in which only some professions are considered appropriate for women.11 These restrictions follow gender stereotypes that stem from an understanding of gender difference in which the physical differences between men and women are presumed to translate into differences in their social and intellectual capacities.12 These limitations are often reflected in labor laws that draw the boundaries of women’s access to employment. Although the Islamist regime guaranteed women’s equal right to work and pay, several other government laws place considerable limitations on women’s economic agency, access and practice. The legal landscape proves contradictory; it recognizes women’s constitutional right to equal work, yet, it gives male guardians the authority to approve or reject work for female family members within the Muslim Family Law of 1991.13 Women must be given approval from husbands/fathers/ brothers prior to getting licensed for employment. This means that a woman’s economic fate is in the hands of her male guardians who are given the power to regulate the terms of a woman’s relationship to employment. Although women continue to bypass these laws and use their agency to achieve access, this contradiction in the law can act as a barrier to Sudanese women’s ability to gain meaningful employment in all its forms. According to the Sudanese Labor Law of 1997, there are two main restrictions placed on women’s work. First, women are prohibited from doing what is considered hazardous work Tønnessen, L. (2019). Women at work in Sudan: Marital privilege or constitutional right? Social Politics: International Studies in Gender, State & Society, 26(2), 223-244. 11

Hale S. (1997) Gender politics in Sudan: Islamism, socialism and the state. Boulder, CO: Westview Press

12

Tønnessen, L. (2019). Women at work in Sudan: Marital privilege or constitutional right? Social Politics: International Studies in Gender, State & Society, 26(2), 223-244. 13

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that requires physical effort and may be harmful to their health. This includes underground work or work that could expose women to poisonous materials or high temperatures.14 Second, women are not allowed to work between the hours of 10 pm and 6 am, with the exception of office jobs in government or private institutions or the health sector (nurses, doctors) with few exceptions outside of these limitations.15 These legal restrictions strongly affect women working in the informal sector selling food and beverages in public spaces at night. Due to the pipeline funneling displaced and urban poor women into the informal sector, these laws place serious limitations on their access to livelihoods. Displaced and urban poor women’s precarious employment in tea selling, for instance, often requires them to be out in public, simultaneously exposing them to the arbitrary public order laws and the time constraints stipulated in the labor law. Upper/middle class women are able to work around these restrictions primarily by engaging in patriarchal bargains, which refer to a woman’s ability to maneuver and prosper within the patriarchal foundation, by accepting certain ‘terms of engagement’ that are gender discriminatory. Tønnessen’s (2019) research examines upper/middle class, educated Sudanese women living in Khartoum and their relationship to wage labor. The research shows that upper class women who work not for economic need but for self-realization are better positionedto navigate structural and institutional patriarchy. Also, these women are able to avoid the legal restrictions because they navigate Khartoum in private transportation and are typically employed in private establishments. Consequently, working class women are much more susceptible to the violence enacted by the laws in an environment that fails to protect their interests, livelihoods and safety. A gendered analysis of the law demonstrates the ways in which women’s employment is restricted by time and what is deemed as ‘dangerous’ work, however, class also influences this dynamic and points to other difficulties. It is important to note that the Khartoum Employment Office labor laws include no sexual harassment policies, which could aid in the protection of women from gender-based harassment in the workplace. However, routine checks are made to ensure that work places employing women have safe and easy access to bathrooms and rest areas in addition to exit and entryways for daily transportation and ambulances in case of emergencies.16 Although the absence of a sexual harassment law poses a problem, the reality is that the existence of such a law would still fail to protect marginalized women, as the law does not apply to street vendors, a sector

Ibid.

14

Ibid.

15

Interview, Khartoum Employment Office, January 14th 2020

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dominated by urban poor women. When asked about the safety of women street vendors, a representative from the Khartoum Employment Office stated that the law does not recognize this as employment as it is unregistered. Khartoum’s legal framework in concert with other practices, illustrates the ways in which marginalized women are both severely exposed and invisible to the eyes of the law. In Greater Khartoum, there is a link between formal law, violence and material realities in relation to gender, class and ethnicity. Considering this, the following section will examine how the abovementioned landscape has shaped women’s relationship to non-traditional employment with focus given to the findings of SIHA’s Breaking Gender Stereotypes Project.

BACKGROUND ON BGS SIHA’s extended work with women street vendors provides unique access to the issues facing these women. The Head of the Women’s Cooperative Union (union for women tea-sellers) Awadia Mahmoud Kuku stated:

“We were struggling from the police raids, especially the younger women tea-sellers who were trying to get an education and make a living at the same time. We came to SIHA with our problem and stated that we wanted a solution to help elevate urban poor working class women from their precarious employment and stop their exposure to state violence. We were particularly excited about vocational training since it provided women with a skill. We did not want the young women to live the harsh realities we lived; the loss of our possessions, the prison cells and the violation of our bodies.”17

Throughout the years of the former regime, many of Sudan’s vocational education institutions deteriorated due to lack of funding and poor management. Teachers frequently went on strike because of salary cuts and delays in payments.18 In recognizing its importance and the potential value of reviving vocational education training for women, SIHA, in collaboration with other civil society actors namely Al Taadood, Nuwayda, Niwa, SPCR, Women’s Union Association (made up of 13 cooperations), SDA, SORD, Babiker Badri Cooperative, Diar, and other self help organizations, developed the Breaking Gender Stereotypes Initiative (BGS). This is part of SIHA’s larger program of empowering women from displaced and urban poor backgrounds in Greater Khartoum. In the initial phase of the project, SIHA’s partners gathered statistics on the

17

FGD, Khartoum, SIHA Partners, January 23rd 2020

18

FGD, Vocational Training Staff, Khartoum January 7th 2020

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number of school dropouts, identified target areas, announced the training opportunity and accepted candidates on the basis of their age, literacy and general desire to train in vocational education. Phase II of the project placed a group of 100 women in training, allowing them to choose their apprenticeships (carpentry, air conditioning/refrigerator services, general electricity, car electricity). Most of the direct participants did not have a steady income prior to the training and worked in precarious situations doing domestic work, selling small handmade products (bags, earrings) or serving food and beverages as street vendors. Their precarious employment situations were attributed to a number of factors including a lack of sufficient education, often due to their displacement. With a few exceptions, women chose their fields of study based on personal interest. A handful of women chose a similar field to those of men in their families.19 The fact that women applied to the program speaks to the desire and readiness of women to engage in vocational training. More importantly, it speaks to how this project met a demand in the population. It showed that women are interested in taking part in vocational education and it effectively eliminates the assumption that women only wish to engage in ‘soft’ employment. The following sections will a) examine the obstacles in the way of women’s vocational education and b) document the women’s experiences of entering into the skilled labor market.

FGD, Women Participants, Khartoum January 6th 2020

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GENDER, VOCATIONAL TRAINING, EMPLOYMENT & RESISTANCE As previously stated, women who seek employment in non-traditional spaces are viewed as going against cultural beliefs and as a result, these women are labeled as straying from their values. The BGS Project reveals the complexity behind women’s low participation in nontraditional workforces. This section reveals the damaging effects of the Islamist regime’s policy and rhetoric on women’s access to vocational training and employment and recognizes the Islamist regime as a key hindrance to women’s participation in the workforce. The vocational institute where the project took place is located at the center of Khartoum. It was established in 1964 by a Government of Germany fund that provided equipment and supported the training of staff. SIHA’s Regional Director, Hala Al-Karib, describes the training institute as deserted, stating that women’s presence brought life back to the center. An instructor gives some history of the training center with respect to the presence of women:

“I was a student at the German Vocational Training Center in 1996…. in a class of about 20 students and 5 of them were women. The classes before me also had women, and one of them was the top of her class in the car electricity department. Many of the women went on to do great things in the field. However, years later, here I am teaching at the same institution and there are no longer women occupying the classrooms.”20 (Abdelrazig, Carpentry Teacher at the VT)

The respondent compares women’s visibility in the early years of the Islamist regime to the present and underlines the decrease in women students. This is not to say that gender segregation in vocational training was introduced by the government change, however, it demonstrates a shift in the already low number of women, underlining a change in women’s public visibility as a whole. When asked about the admission process for women at the center prior to SIHA’s project, the head of the German Vocational Training center stated:

“When SIHA came, it was a challenge. The agreement between SIHA and the center required that all departments be open to women trainees. Previously, we restricted women’s choices and guided them towards ‘soft’ vocations, at very low rates at that.” (Niyazi, Head of Vocational Training Center)

20

FGD, Khartoum, Vocational Training Staff, January 7th 2020

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In theory, the center administratively follows the laws and guidelines of the Supreme Council for Vocational Training and Apprenticeship. These laws make no reference to limitations on women’s admission in vocational education. Similarly, there is no official reference concerning the ban of women from apprenticeships at the training center, itself. Yet, as research has uncovered, administrators have taken it upon themselves to limit women’s choices by only granting them access to particular departments. There is no certainty as to when the practice of limiting women’s access to vocational education began but Niyazi’s response presumes that it was an unspoken norm in the institution born from the discriminatory rules of society. This example shows how women’s access to spaces is effectively deterred even when there is no clear legal precedent for denying them. In this instance, actors utilize social codes to govern women’s access to education, namely by defining what kind of education is appropriate for women. This underlines how, despite being granted equal access within the law, the state’s norms and values affect society’s expectations of women. Historically, women’s participation at the vocational institute was kept purposefully low. Thus, it may be argued that the vocational institute represented a site of resistance for women who managed to enter that space.

GENDER TRAVELS Movement from one region to another affects gender norms, values and expectations, which in turn, are influenced by exposure to new institutionalized structures of gender that appear in social relationships, and in the economic and political realms.

21

Migration is a gendered

process in itself, as migration can stem from and instigates social change. With that being said, questions around migration and gendered social change are critical to understanding the spaces and opportunities available to any given group, where migration results in transforming gender discourse, norms and behavior.22 The migration of Sudanese groups from peripheral regions to Greater Khartoum demonstrates the aforementioned shift in gender discourse as a result of migration. The process of re-gendering the women who migrate to the urban center reveals an interesting link to occupational segregation. A focus group discussion with SIHA staff brought to light the roles of women in their diverse hometowns across Sudan. This included women’s major roles in agriculture in North Kordofan, charcoal making and hut building in the Blue Nile state, and brick making, tree

Näre, L., & Akhtar, P. (2014), Gendered mobilities and social change—An introduction to the Special Issue on Gender, Mobility, Women’s Studies International Forum

21

22

Ibid. pg. 5

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cutting, construction and cattle herding in Nyala, Darfur.23 The conversation uncovered the array of duties carried out by women that necessitate considerable physical strength. Within the environmental, legal and social landscape of Khartoum, men take on the role of the breadwinner while women are the primary caregivers. Women are pushed into the private sphere while men are in the public. As previously stated, women’s participation in activities that require significant physical activity and presence in the public sphere are met with defiance. In contrast, the range of jobs managed by women of diverse backgrounds in their day-to-day lives across Sudan ultimately reveals that gender norms with respect to activities are not uniform across cultures. Other factors such as the socio-cultural element and urban vs. rural environments dictate what roles are assigned to which gender. In terms of employment, the rigid social and legal fabric of Khartoum is unwelcoming to the norms and skills of internally displaced women from other regions. It is important, however, not to assume that women’s involvement in diverse activities across Sudan translates into their having decision-making power or being paid for their labor. Focus here is placed on the gendered norms and how they conflict with those of the urban center, particularly in relation to conceivable paid employment. Displaced women readjust their definition of gender as they move; gender relations are altered and indicators of shame/modesty are shuffled. The desire to create a monolithic Islamist culture based on the state’s interpretations of norms is rooted in class and regional hierarchies. For decades, the Southern and Western regions of Sudan have been marginalized under the larger forces of Arabization and Islamization. As a result, there is little room in the urban center for the traditions and cultural influences of other regions of Sudan. Many respondents alluded to this point as vocational trainer, Jamal, observed:

“In other parts of Sudan, women working outside of the home is very accepted particularly in the Western regions. It is only here, in Khartoum, that things are considered inappropriate. The culture here just doesn’t allow it…misinterpretations of Sharia law are entangled with this.”24

Given that women’s public presence and physical activity is morally, legally and socially policed in Khartoum, if women engage in activities outside of the norm, they are subject to social

FGD, Khartoum, SIHA Staff, February 6th, 2020

23

FGD, Khartoum, Vocational Training Staff, January 7th 2020

24

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and legal sanctions. These women and their activities are labeled shameful, illegitimate or illegal. This fact hinders urban poor women’s participation in the non-traditional vocational workforce despite their skills or desire. The reinforcement of these new relations is instilled in current and future generations therefore ensuring that these new gendered practices continue and are normalized.

TRANSITIONING INTO EMPLOYMENT By controlling women’s conduct in the public sphere, the state tries to promote the idea of a model woman citizen on the basis of religious morality. 25 These moral assumptions act to suppress and confine women by using religious morality and national tradition.26 An understanding of this demonstrates how women’s entry into vocational education and employment is not only hindered by the need to conform to traditional forms of femininity but also to state-defined definitions of religious morality and modesty.

“I went around to a number of shops in the industrial area looking for a job. I got laughed at and asked if I knew of the foul language and general culture of the industrial area. I was told repeatedly that it is no place for a woman. I told them I didn’t care about the language used. I just wanted to work. One man told me I would be bad for business and that, “customers won’t come to a shop where women are working.” Another employer responded to my request for work with, “istaghfarallah” (God Forgive me/you). I responded, “Why, did I say something sinful?”27 (Selma Awad Alkareem, BGS participant)

Women participants say that it is difficult to find jobs. They often have to deal with negative reactions to their eagerness to work in a specific field. Despite being well trained, women find that employers are skeptical about their capabilities. BGS participants are aware that their training must be supplemented with more practice in the field. To this end, a number of women have made attempts to train at workshops to prove their capabilities to employers28 and to indicate their dedication to pursuing careers in their respective vocations. However, as Selma noted, “The idea of women working at open mechanic shops in particular, is met with laughter, deemed

25  Hale, S. (1999). Mothers and militias: Islamic state construction of the women citizens of Northern Sudan. Citizenship Studies, 3(3), 373-386. 26  Nugdalla, S. (2020) The Revolution Continues: Sudanese Women’s Activism. In Gender Protests, and Political Change in Africa, Palgrave Macmillan Publishing. 27

FGD, Khartoum, Women Participants, January 6th 2020

28

Ibid.

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inappropriate and at times, regarded as un-Islamic.” Similarly, one participant recounted that she had a struggle with her older brother about her participation in vocational training. Her brother claimed that it was prohibited in Islam for women to partake in a masculine field of study/employment. As a result of the codes of religious morality supported by the Islamist regime’s governance regarding women’s public activity, women’s faith is brought into question if they wish to participate in vocational training or work in male-dominated areas. It is worth noting that there is no true Islamic reference to prohibiting women from working in maledominated sectors. Although Islam did not emerge as a factor hindering women’s access to education or employment, fundamentalist interpretations of Islam in relation to its control over public morality and consciousness is a critical factor which impedes women’s success in non-traditional work arenas.

“The toughest obstacle has been society’s rejection of women in this field. I received the training and obtained a job at a workshop but customers are skeptical of me fixing their items. Many times, customers ask my male colleagues if I am capable and my colleagues are forced to explain that I am a trained technician. It’s as if trusting a woman technician would result in disaster. If I’m alone at the shop, customers come in asking, “mafi zol?” translating to “Is there no one here?” and I respond, “Ana ma zol?” meaning “Am I not somebody?”29 (Asia Jumaa, BGS participant)

Asia’s experience at the maintenance shop shows the depths of the internalized rejection of women working in certain spaces. So much so, that she is forced to reclaim that space by reinforcing her presence. Asia’s exchange with the customer captures how the general perception about women’s societal roles delegitimizes her presence at the workshop. The assumption is that Asia must be at the shop for some other purpose because she certainly couldn’t be working there. A shop owner at the Khartoum Industrial Area shared his thoughts on employing women stating:

“I have no problem employing women as long as they meet the needs and standards of the job description and that includes dress code. Women lean towards beauty, but here in the industrial area, there is no room for that. Technicians cannot wear rings. This is for their safety during work, of course. Will she be okay with wearing trousers and adhering to the uniform? Is she okay with not wearing a big scarf? I can change my shirt on the street because I’m a man but can she?” (Mansour Osman Abdelmajeed, Mechanics Shop Owner, Khartoum 3 Industrial Area)

29  Interview, Asia Jumaa, BGS Participant February 6th 2020 Negotiating Space: Sudanese Women’s access to Vocational Education & Employment

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The interviewee redirects the question, restructuring the conversation to whether women are willing to forego their femininity to actively participate in the field. This perspective is problematic as it positions femininity as a barrier to this field of employment and removes responsibility from all other actors. The reference to women’s need to adhere to the uniform required for the job (commonly trousers) juxtaposes the abovementionedIslamic dress code, which was imposed by Presidential decree, and the public order laws that made women’s ‘immodest’ dress punishable by law. Due to the arbitrary nature of the law, women wearing trousers were frequently labeled immodest and punished by means of imprisonment, flogging and monetary fines. Refocusing the discussion with this knowledge highlights the obstacles placed on women entering the industrial area for employment. The incompatibility of women’s work attire and public norms concerning women’s dress, places women in a conundrum. If the state-regulated dress code is not adhered to, women are exposed to the unpredictable punishments of the law. So, if women dress appropriately and according to the code of their work place in the Industrial area, they are left vulnerable and susceptible to street harassment and societal shaming for being ‘immodest’ according to the law. This constitutes a very real hardship for women and a significant barrier to entering certain fields and public spaces.

CHALLENGES TO WOMEN’S SAFETY IN NON-TRADITIONAL WORKSPACES In recognizing that women’s occupancy in these spaces exposes them to more harassment, men of varying political and ideological backgrounds, place the responsibility on women to have the right character or as one interviewee described it, ‘charisma’ to subvert sexual harassment in the workplace.30

“If a woman is in front of a man, of course he is going to at least catcall her. It’s totally natural! It is on the woman to be trained in combating men’s natural behavior.”31

Similarly, an employee at a mechanic shop in Khartoum stated, “Women can find good opportunities in this field but they have to be strong enough to handle the difficulties of being a woman on the street. Eventually, it will be normalized but they have to fight through this

FGD, Khartoum, Vocational Training Staff, January 7th, 2020

30

31

FGD, Khartoum, Vocational Training Staff, January 7th, 2020

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stage.”32 Though respondents are cognizant of the violence experienced by women in male-dominated spaces, little responsibility is put on the male harassers. Men’s violent behavior is considered ‘natural’ and therefore beyond their control. This leaves women burdened with having to challenge an uncompromising force of gender-based harassment. It also reveals the underlying resistance of men to accommodate women’s rights to equality and to be active participants in given spaces. The focus group discussion with women participants explored what women would need in order to feel safe in male-dominated fields of employment and education. It was important for the women participants to deeply reflect on the steps required to ensure women’s safe entry into new employment markets. A debate was sparked among participants on whether it is safer for women to be working in open or closed spaces. Some women felt that the open workshops exposed them to street harassment and moral policing of their activity. However, other women felt that a closed space full of men would be intimidating and potentially unsafe. Those in favor of working in open spaces also noted that a closed space would likely result in questions about why one sole woman is in an enclosed space with a number of men. A similar remark was made in an interview with an employer who spoke about Asia’s employment (graduate of BGS):

“This is my first time employing a woman and it has been good so far although home visits have been an obstacle. Sometimes, customers are not home during our maintenance hours and just leave the key out for us to enter. It becomes tricky when a woman technician is with us. It looks inappropriate and difficult to explain. For that reason, I think women are better off in open workshops.”33 (Ehab Mahmoud, Asia’s employer)

As the women participants predicted, Asia’s employer insinuates the immoral aspect of a woman and a man who is not her relation being together in a private residence. He suggests that it will be perceived as shameful for the woman and ‘difficult to explain’. This scenario shows women as sexual objects and accuses them of partaking in immoral activity, therefore revealing the deeply internalized resistance to women working in particular fields. Despite accompanying other technicians who are men, the woman’s presence is met with accusation and shame. Her professional ability is completely overlooked. This shows how the state ‘presumes that all

32

Interview, Khartoum 3 Mechanics Shop, February 2, 2020

33

Interview, Khartoum Industrial Area, February 6th, 2020

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encounters between women and men are sexual in nature’ and how the state has influenced the ‘physiological and psychosocial development’ of Sudanese people.34 This behavior has its roots in the codification of laws that regulate gender relations in the public sphere. The sexualization of women is often tied to other aspects of their identity namely, their ethnicity or race. SIHA staff commented on this stating:

“Urban poor women often bear the worst of sexual harassment. The assumption is that because women are from low-income backgrounds, they are more willing to engage in sexual activity. People view these women’s bodies as lesser than and that is because of these low-income women’s race and class. The intersection of their oppressed identities renders them powerless in these cases.”35 (Nahla Medani, Program Assistant, SIHA Staff)

An understanding of the sexualization of a marginalized group, in this case low-income and internally displaced women, requires us to circle back to the establishment of regional hierarchies in Sudan. As already discussed, the state established regional hierarchies on the basis of ethnicity and race, producing stereotypes that marginalized women who were not of the Northern Arab category, the ‘ideal woman citizen’ category. Women’s migration to the urban center, Khartoum, resulted in their ‘outsider’ label and consequential label as sexually deviant. This analysis allows us to understand how sociopolitical discourses cultivate the ways through which women and men experience space differently. Moreover, a closer look exposes how classism and regional hierarchies exacerbate the laws governing the gendered nature of Sudanese citizenship. Finally, this analysis reveals the relationship between gender, ethnicity, sexuality and class, and how they play out in the context of women’s non-traditional employment. In conclusion, the expectations concerning women’s sexual modesty define their mobility and act as a barrier to women’s employment. The question still remains as to whether open or closed workshops are safer for women because in reality, they both pose a risk that women will be exposed to harassment.

Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa, Redress Trust (2017) Criminalisation of Sudanese Women: A Need For Fundamental Reform. Retrieved from http://sihanet.org/wp- content/uploads/2018/02/Criminalization-of-Women-in-Sudan. pdf 34

35

FGD, Khartoum, SIHA Staff, February 6th 2020

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RESHAPING WOMEN’S ACCESS TO VOCATIONAL EDUCATION & EMPLOYMENT In line with Kabeer’s (2005) definition, women’s empowerment refers to the manner in which women exercise agency in relation to their lives and the larger structures that marginalize them.36 Agency is central to empowerment as it rejects the notion of women as victims and places emphasis on their capacity to make their own decisions regarding their lives. With respect to empowerment, agency refers not only to the act of making choices but doing so in substantial ways that shake power structures.37 BGS women participants have demonstrated their agency by being visible in spaces and gaining knowledge that has traditionally been occupied, structured and consumed by men. Women’s eagerness to be visible in these spaces shows that women are re-defining their role in society. By choosing to enter into new labor markets despite legal and sociocultural restrictions, women are challenging stereotypes and abolishing the idea that women are passive and dependent. By breaking down these expectations of their roles, women are taking control over their resources, finances and bodies. The following section explores the changes in attitudes and behaviors regarding gender roles and employment as a result of BGS.

SHIFTING PERCEPTIONS Interviewees point to a positive shift in the perception of women’s vocational education and employment that is strongly attributed to the difficult economic conditions of the time. Ironically, the economic downfall of the state during the Islamist government was perceived as a reason to accept women into non-traditional employment seeing as the population was struggling to overcome extreme inflation. The irony lays in the Islamist regime’s dedication to discouraging women’s participation in the labor force on the one hand, and its economic negligence, which influenced the acceptance of women into the labor force on the other. Niyazi, the head of the Vocational Training center, points to vocational education as the fastest way to learn an employable skill and hints at the importance of vocational education during difficult economic conditions. Reflecting on the journey with BGS, Niyazi added:

Kabeer, Naila. “Gender equality and women’s empowerment: A critical analysis of the third millennium development goal 1.” Gender & Development 13.1 (2005): 13-24. 36

37

Cornwall, A. (2016). Women’s empowerment: What works? Journal of International Development, 28(3), 342-359.

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“SIHA’s program required that we open all departments to women and to be honest I was worried but it changed my personal perception about women’s capability to be trained and even excel. Once we began, it was a challenge but thankfully, it was a successful one. We have now opened all divisions to women and we will announce this at the beginning of registration in July 2020.”38

Vocational training staff members noted the difference in the behavior of men trainees towards women participants between Phase I and II of BGS. By Phase II, there was less chatter surrounding the women’s participation.39 This reflects a significant shift in the behavior of male students who initially questioned and challenged administrators about the presence of women in the program and were notably persistent in their catcalling of women trainees. In contrast, during Phase II, men were considerably more accepting and welcomed the women as their peers.40 This shows how BGS has effectively contributed to a change in the negative attitudes toward women’s presence and capabilities in vocational education. More importantly, this represents an overall shift in the culture of the vocational training center. Finally, the fact that the vocational center opened up all departments to women students suggests a promising future for women’s vocational education as a result of BGS. Similarly, interviews with government officials provided insight on the inclusion of gendersensitive curricula as part of the future of Sudan’s education system.

“For the period following the revolution, the ministry has shifted its focus on education and this largely includes particular focus on women’s education in all of its forms, academic and in the arts. It is important to us that the revolution’s slogan ‘freedom, peace and justice’ is reflected in the curricula ahead. Central to this, is justice between the genders. The ministry is currently formulating a new strategy for the adjustment of curricula and we maintain that all stakeholders are to be reflected and benefit from the curriculum regardless of their societal positioning.”41 (Omer Babiker, Executive Director, Ministry of Education)

38

Interview, Khartoum, Head of Vocational Training Institute, January 16th 2020

39

FGD, Khartoum, Vocational Training Institute Staff, January 7th 2020

Ibid.

40

41

Interview, Khartoum, Ministry of Education, January 29th, 2020

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The enthusiasm seen in the responses of key actors speaks to a willingness to change and to a substantial shift in attitudes about vocational training for women. It can be argued that the opening of all departments to women and the ministry’s verbal commitment to women’s education speaks to a keenness to forgo old practices that are discriminatory. This energy can be understood as an extension of the larger spirit of optimism and transformation permeating the capital in the period following the demise of the Islamist regime. It signifies the possibility of a new dawn for Sudanese women with respect to vocational education.

OVERCOMING OBSTACLES, CHANGING THE NARRATIVE Women continuously use their abilities to enter into masculine fields of both study and employment by defying sociocultural and political structures in spite of challenges and social pressure to perform traditionally accepted gender roles. As the previous sections have shown, women’s access to vocational education and employment is complex and difficult. Nevertheless, it is important to celebrate the changes in attitudes surrounding women’s vocational employment as it speaks to the shattering of a glass ceiling placed over women in Sudan.

“My brothers and other people around me told me I was wasting my time doing such masculine training and would laugh at my notes.”42 When asked how this affected her choice, Al-Zeena responded, “Yeah, of course it did, but not negatively, positively! It made me want to prove them wrong. Teasing me will not affect me securing a better future for my children and myself.”43

Al-Zeena’s response shows that women are committed to vocational education despite the factors acting in concert to limit and dissuade them. Many women spoke about their desire to be part of a changing narrative and to serve as an inspiration to other women who desire to partake in non-traditional employment but are not encouraged to do so. Despite battling discouragement, women participants spoke about their future aspirations to collaborate and establish women-only workshops throughout Khartoum.44 As women are more trusting of other women, the participants noted that women-only workshops would be advantageous for all women in society.

42

FGD, Khartoum, BGS Participants, January 6th, 2020

Ibid.

43

44

Ibid.

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Despite some participants being fatigued from the challenges of the formal job search, some have used their newly acquired skills to volunteer and help in their communities in hopes of maintaining their knowledge and establishing a professional track record in the local market. In doing so, women are utilizing their resources and skills to find new avenues to succeed in non-traditional employment. The increased presence of women in non-traditional places of work undoubtedly serves to normalize the image of women in these spaces and ultimately shifts perceptions. However, until women’s employment in new workforces is normalized, women’s safety is in question. During discussions with SIHA staff on the anxieties surrounding women’s safety as they break through gender stereotypes, Wafa Adam commented:

“There is power in women holding tools. I believe that women who are holding these tools will be less prone to sexual harassment. Women who are comfortably and confidently participating in non-stereotypical spaces can intimidate men.”45

Wafa speaks of the symbolic power of women holding and handling tools traditionally used by men in spaces traditionally occupied by men. In other words, by holding tools, women are summoning dominant gendered norms and are deliberately confronting and resisting them. This is not to say that women who occupy male-dominated spaces can easily bypass sexual harassment in this way. Rather, it speaks to the power of women’s resilience and willingness to defy gender stereotypes, and how this disrupts patriarchy.

MAINTAINING MOMENTUM, SECURING FEMINIST FUTURES The responses of interviewed men of varying professional backgrounds (teachers, government officials, mechanic shop owners) concerning the question of women’s employment in maledominated sectors reveal a theme of conditional acceptance. One interviewee noted, “It is acceptable if it is undertaken in ways that do not harm their femininity seeing as often, women take on more masculine attitudes to survive.”46 Respondents addressed the so-called ‘dangers’ of women who must compromise their femininity in order to assimilate and protect themselves in such places as the industrial area. While accepting of women’s vocational employment, which indicates a shift in gender stereotypes, men insist that a woman’s femininity not be

45

FGD, Khartoum, SIHA Staff, February 6th, 2020

46

FGD, Khartoum, Vocational Training Staff, February 7th, 2020

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compromised in the process. Therefore, this understanding and acceptance of women’s employment is conditional on women adhering to other traditional forms of femininity such as modes of dress, language and other behaviors. Within this framework, women can be allowed entry into male-dominated fields as long as it does not substantially threaten male dominance. Women are not exempt from perpetuating traditional ideas about gender. Women too, can act as enforcers of gender norms that limit women’s participation in different aspects of life, including employment. An interview with a manager at the Khartoum Employment office highlighted this harsh reality. When asked about women’s employment in open workshops, she responded:

“I’ve seen a few women at the industrial area sitting under cars and fixing them. It is inappropriate and I do not condone it, personally. Women are incapable of navigating these spaces and they should remain in more feminine fields.”47

When asked about what she thought about the women working at the industrial area she commented, “Ma manzar leha”48 translating to ‘it is not a good look for her,’ referring to the inappropriateness of a woman being in a space dominated by men.

These two examples show that women’s efforts to redefine norms and spaces are often met with considerable disdain from all actors in society. Even so, women participants from BGS are eager to challenge norms and have been successful in breaking into new spaces. Although the success of BGS demonstrates a substantial shift in perceptions about women’s employment, it should not be celebrated in a vacuum. The conversation must recognize the stubborn patriarchal notions that remain a problem as seen in the conditional acceptance of women in the workplace. In order to achieve transformative change and more political guarantees for women, the previous system must be overhauled with a completely new consciousness. The building of new norms and the reshaping of women’s existence in society must be rooted in feminist practices that are deliberate in changing all forms of oppression even beyond gender. Without this knowledge, change will be limited, and patriarchy will prevail.

47  48

Interview, Khartoum Employment Office, January 14th, 2020

Ibid.

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CONCLUDING REMARKS The focal points of the aforementioned discussion provide an understanding of how women break, challenge, resist, negotiate and navigate gender restrictions by claiming new spaces in education and employment. By examining the challenges associated with women’s vocational opportunities and utilizing the lived experience of women participants, we saw the damaging effects of the Islamist regime. This was achieved by highlighting the laws of exclusion that have resulted in the low participation of women in vocational education today. More importantly, the discussion made evident the sincere dedication of women participants to be part of a changing narrative. The discussions ultimately reveal how practical approaches to achieving women’s empowerment through providing women with employable skills, can substantially impact social norms and gender stereotypes. Projects like BGS represent a disruption to patriarchal structures and a step toward the realization of gender equality in access to education and employment. With this in mind, the following section will provide recommendations that will aid in the securing of women’s access and safety in vocational education and employment.

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RECOMMENDATIONS As the impact of BGS has demonstrated, women have a strong desire to access non-traditional education. However, this cannot be done without the proper infrastructure. All departments of vocational education must be open to women without restrictions. The opening of these departments should be properly advertised and disseminated through effective channels. Additionally, women participants and vocational training staff need longer training periods so that students are more equipped to transition into the employment market. In order for this to happen, funding must be made available to vocational training institutes to ensure that they are able to enroll a larger number of students, have better equipment and classrooms, and increase staff salaries. In the same breath, gender sensitive curricula must be designed and implemented to accommodate women trainees. This report asserts that during this critical time in Sudan’s trajectory, it is crucial that government officials are held accountable for promises regarding women’s education. Furthermore, it is imperative that the powerful words of the revolution ‘freedom, peace and justice’ are not used loosely and are translated into more political guarantees for women. As indicated above, women’s safety is a serious concern in both education and employment spaces, therefore necessitating the implementation of sexual harassment policies as part of the bylaws of all vocational training centers, to be adhered to by staff and students alike. These policies must be geared toward supporting the safety of women in public and private spaces. Women participants spoke of the need for social change regarding gendered employment and women’s rights, in general. The best way to accomplish this is through awareness raising workshops, media, and by other means. In acknowledging this, this report concludes with the need to support and protect spaces for feminist organizing through resources and the maintenance of open civic space for activities. Finally, SIHA calls on the transitional government to ratify essential instruments relating to women’s rights including, but not limited to, the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol) and the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

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