Going to university changed Huda Shafig.
Until then, she said, she had “kind of lived in a bubble,” mostly unaware of the impact of the conflict raging in parts of Sudan outside of her hometown of Khartoum.
“I realized I got opportunities that I took for granted,” she said. “Other people my age in other states and areas weren’t provided for in the same way.”
At the university, too, she learned that something she’d always cared about – equality for women – was an international issue, one she could work to improve. She began working with civil society organizations, particularly ones focused on peacebuilding and women’s participation in politics and security.
In 2013, she joined a group called the Task Force for the Engagement of Women in the Peace Process.
Her role with this task force led her to a Carter Center-sponsored meeting in Khartoum in December, where she and other members of civil society shared their experiences and concerns with a group of international conflict resolution experts assembled by the Center. The experts, in turn, talked with them about how they had worked to help bring peace to their own countries.
“To have the opportunity to listen to their experiences and to learn,” Shafig said, “is worth taking a day off. We need more assistance from professionals and technical people to reach the objective, which is inclusive peace.”
John Goodman, an associate director in the Carter Center’s Conflict Resolution Program who helped organize the Sudan meetings, said people like Shafig are crucial: “You can’t have lasting peace unless all aspects of society are heard, and part of the Carter Center’s responsibility is to amplify the voices of those who might otherwise not get a seat at the table.”
The situation in Sudan is challenging for activists. While Shafig’s group has never been a government target, many others have.
“Not everyone who is an activist,” she said, “is safe to say what they want to say or meet with whom they want to meet.”
It’s also not easy for women to be taken seriously in a patriarchal society, where females are largely excluded from even everyday places such as community clubs or gyms. But Shafig dreams of a time when women in Sudan are accepted as equals and allowed to fulfill their potential.
And, of course, she dreams of peace.
Though Sudan is enjoying a government cease-fire at the moment, there is much work to do to achieve permanent peace and to erase the effects of decades of war.
Those effects are felt even in conflict-free regions, she said, as evidenced by the country’s economic woes and general lack of security. But for her fellow citizens in the conflict zones, ending the fighting is a matter of life and death.
Shafig spoke of meeting a woman in a conflict area and asking what peace would mean to her.
“In Sudan,” Shafig explained, “we don’t really have apartments — we have houses, with open yards in front of them, and people usually sleep out there under the stars at night. So she said that for her, peace is being able to sleep outside and have her kids laughing and playing in the streets like before, without being scared.”