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Sudan: The Sudanese Women's Union (SWU) including activities, roles, organization and problems faced in Sudan

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada
Publication Date 8 February 2002
Citation / Document Symbol SDN38394.E
Reference 2
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Sudan: The Sudanese Women's Union (SWU) including activities, roles, organization and problems faced in Sudan, 8 February 2002, SDN38394.E, available at: [accessed 28 November 2015]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

The Sudanese Women's Union (SWU) is reportedly a "pro-government" women's organization (PANA 5 Oct. 2000), headed by chairperson Raja Hassan Khalifa

(DPA 31 Jan. 2000). In January 2000, the SWU reportedly published a statement in the Arabic daily al-Rai al-Akhbar, protesting the "under-representation" of women in the government following a cabinet shuffle in which only two women were appointed to the Cabinet (ibid.). Nonetheless, "Raja was quoted as saying the union would continue to support the government of Beshir despite the 'injustice' the government had shown in the formation of the new cabinet" (ibid.).

In September 2000, the Constitutional Court reportedly suspended a decree banning women from working in gas stations, restaurants, and other public areas, "in response to a petition by the Sudan Women's Union" (IPS 14 Sept. 2000). The decree had been issued by the governor of the state of Khartoum and former minister of planning, Mazjoub al-Khalifa (ibid.).

The information which follows provides a historical background of the SWU.

The SWU dates back to 1951 when it replaced the Sudanese Women's League (Sisterhood is Global 1984, 649). Reportedly,

In 1955 the Union began to publish the progressive magazine The Women's Voice, which spoke out against colonialism, facial scarification, genital mutilation, Moslem divorce-la inequity, and polygny, and in favour of equal pay, maternity benefits, and equal rights . ... during the Abboud regime (1958-1964), the SWU was banned and an "official" organization for women created in its stead. In the 1964 popular revolt, women demonstrated, fought and died along with men. Fatma Ahmed Ibrahim, one of the founders of the SWU, led the first demonstration of several hundred women. Women's participation in the revolt hastened female suffrage in 1964 (ibid. 649-650).

From 1965 to 1969 the SWU was again active in promoting women's education and women's rights. In 1969 the SWU supported the initially progressive regime, but in the 1971 attempted Communist coup and subsequent anti-Communist purge Fatma Ahmed Ibrahim's husband was executed, and she was imprisoned (ibid.) ...

In 1971 the "official" Sudan Women's Union was formed by the government; it [had] a membership of 750,000 (1977) in all provinces and [worked] with voluntary organizations. It was affiliated with the SSU (Sudanese Socialist Union) and undertook projects on literacy, family welfare and childcare, price controls, women's work co-ops, savings unions, handicraft skills training, and market development. It published a monthly women's magazine and maintained contacts with local and international women's organizations (ibid. 650).

Articles in the mid to late 1990s refer to the SWU as a banned organization (Imprint 24 Nov. 1995; New Internationalist Magazine Feb. 1996).

According to Grass Roots Media, in the 1980s, Fatima Ahmed Ibrahim, "stayed in Sudan enduring times of imprisonment and persecution," until 1991 when, on the advice of Amnesty International, she left Sudan and sought asylum in the United Kingdom (Grassroots Media, n.d). In 1998, Fatima Ahmed Ibrahim stated that the SWU was opposed to the National Islamic Front (NIF) regime, but supports the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), which opposes the current government of Sudan (Alfajr Newspaper 6 Sept. 1998).

No reports of other members of the SWU facing problems in Sudan could be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Alfajr Newspaper . 6 September 1998. Issue 69. "Fatima Ahmed Ibrahim." [Accessed. 7 Feb. 2002]

Deutsche Presse-Agentur (DPA). 31 January 2000. "Sudanese Women Demand a Greater Role in Government." (NEXIS)

Grass Roots Media. n.d. "Fatima: Freedom Fighter." [Accessed. 6 February 2002]

Imprint . 24 November 1995. "Peacebuilding in Sudan: Role of Women." [Accessed. 6

February 2002]

Inter Press Service (IPS). 14 September 2000. "Sudan: Court Suspends Directive on Women." (NEXIS)

New Internationalist Magazine. February 1996. Wayne Elmwood. "Interview with Fatima Ahmed Ibrahim." [Accessed. 6 Feb. 2002]

Panafrican News Agency (PANA). 5 October 2000. "Sudan: Anti-Israeli Demonstration in Khartoum." (NEXIS)

Sisterhood is Global. 1984. Robin Morgan (ed.). Sisterhood is Global: The International Women's Movement Anthology. New York: Double Day.

Additional Sources Consulted

Africa Research Bulletin: Political, Social and Cultural Issues

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2000. 2001. United States Department of State. Washington, DC. United States Government Printing Office.

Keesing's Record of World Events [Cambridge].

Sudanese Democratic Gazette.

Internet sites including:

Amnesty International

Human Rights Watch

Search engines including:



Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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