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Ibrahim El-Salahi Pain Relief at The Saatchi Gallery, London

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Our literacy participants in Al-Fatih, one of the most deprived former IDP settlements lying on the outskirts of Khartoum.


Above, Covid-19 Progression in Africa on April 20th. See daily updates in African Center for Strategic Studies

For the safety of all our participants and staff and in line with lockdown policies in Khartoum  we have suspended our literacy program but remain in close contact with all our literacy workers and local community leaders.


This is a literacy post for Women’s Education Partnership.  See Facts and Figures to learn more about our mission and impact. Half our literacy participants are the sole breadwinners in their families and rely on the informal economy for work. Learn more in At a Glance

“About 80% of Sudanese women and girls from conflict and non-developmental areas work in the informal sector. Most of the women work in invisible sectors such as domestic work, factory workers, or itinerant saleswomen….”

SIHA State Policies Undermine the Marginalized


 We have already funded our Covid-19 awareness and relief work but please consider giving to our life-changing literacy work. It is never more needed than now. Just click on the link below to donate quickly and securely:

 Virgin Money Giving

See next week’s post on our Covid-19 awareness and relief program. 


We really look forward to safely re-starting our literacy circles as soon as lockdown ends. We are working on procedures to guarantee all necessary social distancing and other measures are in place. 


Some of the orphans we support in our Orphans Elementary Schools Program. 

Learn more in Elementary Schools Support

“Thirteen out of fifteen countries in the world where more than 30% of primary school age girls are out of school are in sub-Saharan Africa.”   How girls’ education and safety will be harmed by the covid response 


The odds are already stacked against these children in Jebel Aulia ever attending or continuing school but girls are disproportionately affected by interruptions in their schooling. 


Covid-19 and its Impact on Women in Sudan 

Women’s Voices    Women’s Roles    Women’s Right to Education 


This is the fourth of five posts this month dedicated to Covid-19 and its impact on  Sudanese life, society and the economy. 


See Coronavirus in Sudan – Stepping Back from the Abyss for the health context, “Realities on the Ground” and “A perfect Storm? for the economic context: Coronavirus in Sudan Stepping back from the Abyss Part 2.

See Coronavirus Sudan Stepping Back from the Abyss 3 – Lockdown for the impact of lockdown. 


Covid-19 and its Impact on Women in Sudan

Women’s Voices 


Our literacy community in Jebel Aulia 

Currently, experts do not know what alternatives to a comprehensive lockdown may exist, or what local variants of isolation, movement restriction, contact tracing and quarantine might be viable. That’s because they haven’t asked. There is no time to lose: community consultations should begin now. Communities may well find creative ways of protecting the most at risk.” 

Alex de Waal: Know Your Epidemic

See too Un Women The Importance of Female Leadership – video interview with Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka (15 minutes)

Women’s Voices 

“Because they haven’t asked.”  As Alex de Waal observes above, policy makers are failing to seek firsthand community knowledge in the battle against Covid-19. As containment measures start to bite, hitting the most vulnerable hardest, many fear that womens responses to the pandemic are also being overlooked. A conversation amongst the privileged“ is how SIHA describe measures imposed without consulting the women making up over 70% of Sudan’s informal economy, the vast majority of whom have no access to clean running water, soap or reliable disease prevention information. (Dos and Don’ts Corunavirus Sudan). See too Covid-19 What Africa Can Learn from Africa on the role of community care centres in fighting Ebola. 

Identifying the true scale of the challenges facing the poor and marginalized in developing countries is hampered by lack of full and reliable data on the people whose lives and circumstances fall outside conventional data gathering systems and UN Women acknowledges a substantial gender data gap when it comes to the impact of the virus on womens lives.  When testimonies remain unsought, they are never heard. 


Although over 70% of nursing staff worldwide are women, as are midwives and health workersjust 25% of global health leadership is represented by women and they find themselves underrepresented in Covid-19 global health decisions. Women’s Leadership in Covid-19 Era sees this as “symptomatic of our wider society, where women continue to be underrepresented in political leadership. “Gender concerns are not yet shaping the decisions that mainly male leaders are making,” (Women and Covid-19: Five things governments can do)


See Voices for more on how literacy empowers women to find a public voice. 

Centre versus periphery, urban poor versus urban rich, urban versus rural, physical distancing versus interpretations of “social” distancing in communal cultures – all these will determine how lockdown measures are imposed and how fully they are embraced. Women’s prevailing economic and social roles will also be of crucial importance. Yet, without the community consultation that de Waal notes was key to successfully controlling the 2014 Ebola epidemic, lockdown becomes a blunt instrument in disease containment.  And without consultation and consent, an even cruder weapon against disease spread in the case of refugee settlements:

In many cases, COVID-19’s impact on refugees and IDPs will be felt disproportionately by women, who often form the majority of displaced populations in conflict-afflicted regions. These women’s access to services and ability to feed their families are already deeply constrained by stigma relating to their ties (real or alleged) to armed groups.

Covid-19 and Conflict


Caregivers, mothers, health and nutrition ambassadors for their communities, workers in the informal economy – our literacy graduates.  

Even when governments strive to minimize the most damaging consequences of lockdown on the poor, as is the case of Sudantransitional pro-democracy government, their efforts can misfire. SIHA has documented numerous testimonies of Sudanese women unable to register for Covid-19 relief payments because they simply do not have the civil registry papers required to qualify for them. Those from ethnic and tribal groups traditionally subject to prejudice in Sudan fall victim to a discriminatory registration system inherited from the former regime

“Women were demanded to appear in front of the national records officers with male guardians or the ID of their male guardians. It is worth noting that 75% of the Sudanese population resides in the states, villages and outskirts of the city and they were not among the priorities of the current civil registry,..”

SIHA State Policies Undermine the Marginalized


Communal food preparation and sharing are central to Sudanese life and often the primary responsibility of women and girls. 

See more in Nourishing the Next Generation

See too FT video interview with Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka; UN Women on the importance of female leadership

Women’s Roles 

Structural discrimination such as that above compounds the  impact lockdown measures are having on prevailing women’s roles as carers. Already estimated as doing three to four times more work in the home than men, women everywhere find their unpaid domestic and caring work increase exponentially as they care for children now not attending school and older or frail relatives who are highly vulnerable to the virus. At the same time those relying on the informal economy to feed their families have lost their source of income, hitting families headed by women hardest. This applies with even great force to Sudan where there is no social safety net for the poorest. 

Buying and distributing food among the extended family, queueing to collect water from public pumps without sufficient soap all place Sudanese women at high risk of infection. Lockdown may further limit women’s access to menstrual, contraceptive and antenatal care and essential protective supplies for midwives and health workers may become scarce.  Maternal and infant death rates are predicted to rise and throughout the world the incidence of domestic and gender-based violence is soaring:

Domestic violence is already widely under-reported, with less than 40 per cent of women who experience violence seeking help, and the pandemic is making reporting even harder, because of “limitations on women’s and girls’ access to phones and helplines and disrupted public services like police, justice and social services.”

UN Chef calls for domestic violence Ceasefire


Mothers and daughters attending our literacy graduation celebrations in Hajj Jusif, Khartoum last November. See Celebrating

Women’s Right to Education 

img_5810“Based on lessons learned with the school closures in response to the Ebola epidemics of recent years, UNICEF maintains that the longer children stay away from school, the less likely they are to ever return.” 

Life-Saving Vaccines at Risk


“This is highly expected to happen for both boys and girls. Boys enter the labour market and earn  money which influences them to leave school and few think of saving money to pay for school. But among girls the probability is even higher as they become familiar with domestic duties, and the family in turn then encourages this.”

Our literacy coordinator, Mrs. Adila Osman, on the likelihood of children never returning to education once their schooling is interrupted.


As seen above, the impact of lockdown on girls’ educational and later life opportunities can be profound in communities where girls already lack access to education, where cultural norms may give precedence to sons enjoying schooling and child marriage and FGM can disrupt or inhibit girls’ attendance. Incidence of early pregnancy, sexual violence and forced labour all increase sharply during crises and all can lead to girls being forced to abandon their schooling. Schools act as safe spaces for girls where they are less likely to be forced into marriage. “During this pandemic, however, schools are not there to protect girls. How girls’ education and safety will be harmed by the covid response

“It is an unprecedented situation and unless we collectively act now to protect children’s education, societies and economies will feel the burden long after we’ve beaten COVID-19”, In the most vulnerable communities, the impact will span generations”. 

Life-Saving Vaccines at Risk

Minimizing the impact of lockdown on girls’ education will involve concerted and consistent measures, as explained in How girls’ education and safety will be harmed by the covid response: And again, closing the gender data gap will be key, tracking numbers of children not attending school and providing “gender disaggregated data to ensure they can act if a significant number of children do not return to school.” When lockdown ends, “governments should develop measures to identify and assist those who have not returned, for example by providing financial assistance programmes. Yet it is questionable, given the economic strain Covid-19 will put on already fragile infrastructures, whether Sudan will have the resources to achieve this. 

img_3456Above, a school on the outskirts of Khartoum.

We are committed to following up and keeping in touch with all the literacy participants and orphans we support during lockdown so they will be able to resume their studies safely as soon as possible.  We know that the odds of their enjoying their right to education have been stacked against them throughout their lives and we will do everything we can to make sure that Covid-19 does not prevent them from continuing their studies.  

Protecting women and girls’ right to education has never been mote vital.

This is a literacy post for Women’s Education Partnership.  See Facts and Figures to learn more about our mission and impact. 80% of our participants come from Darfur and The Nuba Mountains. Learn more in At a Glance


 We have already funded our Covid-19 awareness and relief work but please consider giving to our life-changing literacy work. It is never more needed than now. Just click on the link below to donate quickly and securely:

 Virgin Money Giving


OCHA Sudan

One comment on “Coronavirus Sudan Stepping Back from the Abyss 4 The Impact on Women

  1. Imogen

    This post looks excellent. SIMON


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