Lessons From Post-Conflict Sudan: Sing Songs, Build Health


By Kamayani Bali Mahabal

20 December, 2012

The team of health activists that is working in post-conflict South Sudan. Dr Hiba Salih (in the pink head cover) is a physician from North Sudan who has worked for three years in post-conflict sites in South Sudan.

Thunderbay, Canada (Women’s Feature Service) – South Sudan has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world; a young girl in South Sudan is three times more likely to die during pregnancy or childbirth than to reach Grade Eight. So how can change be ushered in under such adverse circumstances?

This was one of the themes at a recent international public health conference, held in Thunderbay, Canada, which was hosted by the Women Health Task Force (WHTF) and focused generally on the theme of reducing maternal and newborn mortality. It was attended by 850 delegates from 50 countries.

WHTF, incidentally, has a very interesting history. According to WHTF founder member, Professor Judy Lewis, who is Director, Global Health Education and Professor, Departments of Community Medicine and Pediatrics, University of Connecticut School of Medicine, it was formed in 2002 with support of Global Health Education, Training and Service as a part of an international health network. Its significance lay in south-south collaboration to improve education and health outcomes for women. The group unites experts working on women’s health and higher education with members from different regions and countries around the world. The WHTF is also an active and growing forum for the exchange of ideas and the development of strategies and resources for women’s health.

The recent conference showcased the impact of this exchange of ideas very clearly, especially with regard to the situation in South Sudan. It brought to the fore voices like that of Dr Khalifa Elmusharaf, Head of the Reproductive and Child Health Research Unit at the University of Medical Sciences & Technology, Khartoum, the capital of Sudan. “I started to work in South Sudan in 2010 with motivated and inspired post-graduates students. Together, we launched ‘Rebuilding Reproductive & Child Health System in Post Conflict Settings Initiative’, an intervention that aimed to rebuild reproductive and child health systems in a post-conflict setting by getting a better understanding of local contexts and cultures. This helped us design culture oriented interventions that improved the demand side of health delivery and empowered women to stay healthy, make the right health decisions and act on those decisions,” elaborated Dr Elmusharaf.

Sudan is a country that witnessed a bloody civil war that has raged for the past 50 years, with the more developed north of the country pitted against the south. This was a war that affected eight million with an estimated two million killed and about four million displaced from their homes.

In was against this background that Dr Hiba Salih, a physician from North Sudan, who actually worked for three years in post-conflict sites in South Sudan, could make a difference. “In the past, Sudan’s health interventions had a top to bottom approach. They did not involve local communities. What made the situation even more difficult was that the traditional modes and methods prevalent in North Sudan were completely different from those existing in the south. We inverted the pyramid and adopted a bottom-up strategy,” revealed Dr Salih.

This posed a communications challenge. The task before Dr Salih was to take local traditions and use them in untraditional ways in the advocacy for health. She pointed to a poster she had brought, “It doesn’t matter if you cannot speak Arabic. The fact is 62 per cent of the population in South Sudan is in any case illiterate, so posters like this one has had to cross the literacy divide. The central message of this poster is: ‘We are strong and united, let’s work together for primary health care of women and encourage the husband to take care of his wife and child’.”

Working in post-conflict areas with very limited resources forced Dr Salih and her team to keep their minds open. “The idea was really to connect with the community in order to empower them. So you are forced to think untraditionally and adopt local ways. The people will help you understand their context; they will share their indigenous knowledge with you. But it is ultimately up to you to choose the ways you can identify and utilise local resources for maximum impact. When you do this, you have better chances of creating sustainable solutions, which is always a big challenge in post-conflict areas,” she observed.

So what did Dr Salih and her team do? They started by empowering 15 illiterate women in 15 different villages through simple games. “Women were lined up and told to hold on to one rope. Each woman was then asked to pull a part of the rope and in this way the rest of the group moved closer to her. This was to demonstrate that networks mattered within the community. Anything that happened to any one of them affected not just the whole family but the community,” Dr Salih explained.

Since the team also wanted to understand the daily realities of these women’s lives, it came up with a novel way of getting women to document their own lives. Each woman was handed over a disposable camera for a week and asked them to take photographs relevant to their lives. Later they had to explain why they took a particular picture. Said Dr Salih, “In this way, we got a deeper understanding of their beliefs and attitudes, as well as their lives.”

Slowly, through this process the women were able to identify the important issues in their community which were adversely affecting their health. Over time, they were able to help in designing tools to address the issues that had affected them.

“It was amazing. Not only did we train them they taught us something as well. I remember this song they composed, ‘La la la ya baba yoo, ma tadogo mama yoo, Mama heya hamlana, shelo mashakil betaaki dah (no, no daddy, don’t hit mommy/ Mommy is pregnant, please don’t fight with her)’. These illiterate women had identified domestic violence as a health issue. They wanted to change their community, and even neighbouring villages, through songs,” revealed Dr Salih.

The sustainability aspect also came through. When the team first started, it comprised seven physicians who trained 15 women. Within less than a year, after about six visits, more than 55 men and women wanted to be trained. Remarked Dr Salih, “We trained the trainers and that was how we were able to have a multiple impact.”

Lewis of WHTF saw this as a good example of how participatory research as well as the development of songs and other communication tools for low literacy communities could be used to improve women’s health all over the world – including in the global north.

Women’s Feature Service began in 1978 as an UNESCO-UNFPA initiative. Until 1991, it was a project of Inter Press Service (IPS) Third World News Agency. The only international women’s news/features syndicate, Women’s Feature Service produces features and opinions on development from a gender perspective. http://www.wfsnews.org/

(© Women’s Feature Service)


Sudan using protests ‘to silence dissenters’, same as India

Rights group report urges Sudan to end the violent crackdown on anti-government protesters and journalists.

Last Modified: 27 Jun 2012 10:09


Omar al-Bashir, Sudan’s president, has said the protests against high prices is the work of “a few agitators” [AFP]

Security forces have arrested scores of protesters, opposition members, and journalists, beat people in detention, and used rubber bullets and live ammunition to break up protests that began on June 16, Human Rights Watch said in a report released on Tuesday.

Sudan should end the crackdown on peaceful protesters, release people who have been detained, and allow journalists to report freely on the events, the report added.

“Sudan is using these protests as an excuse to use violence and intimidation to silence dissenters,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

“Authorities should call off their security forces and vigilantes, end the violence immediately, and respect the right of the people to protest peacefully.”

“Arresting all suspected opponents to stifle dissent is abusive and illegal,” Bekele said.

“Authorities need to charge or release these detainees immediately, allow people to voice their opinions peacefully, and let the media work freely.”

The protests began on June 16 at Khartoum University in response to government austerity measures and price increases, and they had spread to dozens of other locations in Khartoum, and other towns across Sudan, with protesters calling for the end of the current government.

US condemnations

Meanwhile, the US have condemned the crackdown on Sudan protests,”Sudan’s economic crisis cannot be solved by arresting and mistreating protesters,” said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.

“There have been reports of protestors being beaten, imprisoned and severely mistreated while in government custody.

We call for the immediate release of those detained for peaceful protest,” she added in a statement.

The National Security and Intelligence Services (NISS) on Tuesday deported Salma El Wardany, an Egyptian female correspondent of Bloomberg News in Khartoum, and briefly detained prominent Sudanese blogger Maha El Sanousi.

“They ordered me to leave,”  Salma El Wardany, an Egyptian, told AFP by telephone as she awaited a flight from the Khartoum airport.

Sudan has lost billions of dollars in oil receipts since South Sudan gained independence last July, taking with it about 75 per cent of Sudanese crude production. The north has been left struggling for revenue, plagued by inflation, and with a severe shortage of dollars to pay for imports.

The landlocked South depended on the north’s pipeline and port to export its crude, but Khartoum and Juba could not agree on how much South Sudan should pay to use the infrastructure.

Sudan’s already depleted oil revenues shrank by a further 20 per cent after its main Heglig oil field was damaged and shut down in fighting with invading South Sudanese troops in April, international economists have estimated.

Even before the easing of fuel subsidies, the cost of basic consumer goods had doubled over the past year.

Bashir, an army officer who seized power in 1989, called the protests small and not comparable to the “Arab Spring” uprisings against regional strongmen over the past year.

He blamed anti-government protests on the work of “a few agitators” in a speech late Sunday.

But a demonstrator told AFP the current unrest is unprecedented. “Right now, this is first time since 1989 we have these protests in most cities,” he said, asking not to be identified by name.

There have been calls on social networks for a mass nationwide protest on June 29.


Save 20 year old Sudanese mother Sentenced To Death By Stoning



Save 20 year old Sudanese mother Sentenced To Death By Stoning



Intisar Sharif Abdallah was sentenced by Judge Sami Ibrahim Shabo at Ombada criminal court in Omdurman on 22 April on charges of adultery, under article 146A of Sudan’s criminal code.

Intisar was accused of having a relationship and becoming pregnant by a man who was not her husband. She was found guilty after an “admission of guilt” following torture and brutal beatings by her brother who instigated the case. According to reports, Intisar did not have access to a lawyer during her trial, and her accused lover remains un-convicted and walks free.
Intisar, who has three children, is being detained with her newborn baby. She is suffering from psychological distress and does not fully understand the nature of her sentence. In addition, she has a limited knowledge of Arabic and was denied a translator in court, an Amnesty International report stated. It was first reported that she is a minor but latest reports from civil society groups in Sudan confirmed her age as 20.
Sudan is a State party to a number of international human rights instruments. It signed and ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) in 1986. It has also signed and ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. A military coup in 1989 which harkened in the rule of its long-term and current president Omar al-Bashir introduced shari’a as the foundation of the country’s jurisprudence and penal laws; a move widely perceived by many in Sudan as a pretext for the growth in stronghold by religious fundamentalist forces in the government.
The al-Bashir government passed the Sudanese Penal Code in 1991. A number of Articles in the Penal Code intended to curb women’s enjoyment of their fundamental rights were introduced. These Articles have become the major impediments to Sudan’s accession to the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). It is now one of the seven (7) remaining countries who have yet to sign and ratify the Convention. One of these Articles is 146A, which provides capital punishment for married men and women who are found guilty of engaging in sexual relationships outside marriage. The president must approve all death sentences before they are carried out.

On 1 August 2010, the Sudanese Parliament called for the punishment of stoning to death to “adulterers” or those accused of having extra-marital affairs.However, the Sudanese delegation during the Universal Period Review (UPR) of Sudan by the UN Human Rights Council in 2011 stated that “the death penalty was practiced in the most restricted manner and imposed for the most serious crimes and it is associated with the right to practice religion as guaranteed by international human rights treaties”. They also claimed that there are strict legal safeguards in trials of cases punishable by the death penalty.
Sudanese women’s groups view the sentencing of Intisar as a demonstration of the scale of discrimination against women and girls in the country: “It is incredulous that the man with whom she has been accused is able to walk free showing explicitly the strong anti-woman sentiment and harsh management of family disputes that exists within both the Sudanese judicial system and in society”.
We view stoning as an egregious abuse of human rights and in violation of Sudan’s international human rights commitments under the ICCPR. It also constitutes a form of torture and is often accompanied by gender discrimination and unfair judicial processes. Although stoning is often justified in the name of Islam, the use of stoning today is wholly un-Islamic and religiously illegitimate. There is no mention of stoning in the Quran and many Muslim clerics, religious scholars, and political leaders have spoken out against the practice of stoning.
We demand that Intisar Sharif Abdallah be released immediately and unconditionally. We also call upon Sudanese authorities, including the Sudan Ministry of Justice and other relevant government bodies, to conduct an honest and thorough investigation into the case and correct all breeches in the judicial process.
The Sudanese government must reform the penal code and make it in line with its commitment to international human rights standards it has signed up to including the decriminalization of consensual sexual relations between adults and to ban capital punishment in all its forms. Stoning must never again be considered as a legitimate punishment for any crime.
The freedom of belief does not constitute the freedom to kill. No excuse—including in the name of ‘religion’, ‘culture’, or ‘tradition’—justifies any form of violence against women whether by the State or by private individuals or groups.




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