UNDP-Managed Elections Basket Fund Enables Women’s’ Effective Participation
Women’s’ High Turnout in Sudanese Elections a Potential Game-Changer

(By UNDP Sudan News Desk)

Khartoum, 19 April 2010 - Setting aside physical and logistical difficulties and thinly-veiled threats from a section of the religious right, women across the North and Southern parts of the country thronged polling stations in large numbers to exercise their vote, the first time in a generation.

There were an estimated 16,000 polling stations throughout the country, over 10,000 in the North and nearly 6,000 in the South. What really accounted for high enthusiasm among women to participate in the landmark Sudanese elections possible and have their voices heard?

The answer can be found in how the deputy secretary-general of the ruling Sudan People's Liberation Movement in Southern Sudan, Ann Itto, related her voting experience at a press conference in Juba. "It was the first time I ever voted in my life. The feeling was great. And I felt that I had made my contribution to making this country a better place to live. More than 70 percent of the people in the queue were women ... pregnant ones and those who had just delivered the other day," she was quoted by Al Jazeera as having said.

Said Suzy Peter Madut, a road-side tea-seller and a woman voter who voted in the Payam headquarters, in Juba, “This is the first time I have voted in an election and I pray that the polling process ends peacefully and that, when the results are announced, people accept them peacefully so that we can all enjoy more peace and stability”.

The story of high women’s turnout can be attributed, at least, partly, to the efforts made towards women’s meaningful participation in elections as part of the UNDP-managed and UNIFEM-implemented Basket Fund for Elections that provided the necessary technical and logistical support to the National Elections Commission (NEC). The Basket Fund has been made possible thanks to contributions from the European Union, DFID, Netherlands, Japan, Denmark, Sida, Norway, Italy, France and Spain.

As part of the Basket Fund support, education was offered to female voters in an effort to mobilize them to participate in the polls. The main objective was to create the political space for all – not just half – of Sudan’s diverse peoples to have a say in the decisions and policies that affect their lives.

Workshops were organized that led to a clearer enunciation of the women’s’ agenda in elections. Women candidates, cutting across party lines, formed an alliance with a unified agenda of policy priorities. Representing 11 political parties, the alliance members pledged to work together beyond the elections to strengthen and broaden women’s’ participation locally, to lobby political parties and government to prioritize gender concerns, and to increase access to funding and training opportunities for women in politics.

Other pieces of UN-led technical assistance to engender the recent elections included direct advisory support to the Nations Elections Commission (NEC) by making available the services of a gender and governance expert whose remit was to sensitize the Commission and its state high committees in a way that ensured equitable participation of women in elections.

Efforts were also made in the direction of gender-sensitizing the media. Hundreds of journalists and editors were involved in an awareness-raising drive, equipping them with tools and ideas on gender-balanced election coverage. As part of the elections coverage, one of the more redeeming television programmes on a popular local channel fostered constructive debate on women’s rights in Islam.

Despite limited space and opportunities for women in public life, women turned out in larger numbers than men in several states of the North for the voter registration and civic education phases of the elections.

The just-concluded elections in Sudan witnessed over 1,000 women candidates representing diverse political parties contesting seats set aside for women in the National Assembly. More than 2,300 women ran for local state assemblies. Three women are running for governorships in the Southern Sudan states of Western Equatoria, Warrap and Unity.

Notwithstanding such seemingly impressive numbers, the overall picture of women’s representation in the elections is far from rosy. Only one of the 11 original candidates for the Presidential position was a woman. A mere 5 per cent of candidates for the gubernatorial sweepstakes in all 25 states were women. It is noteworthy that Angelina Teny, a state minister of Energy and Mining in the Government of National Unity and wife of the Vice President of Southern Sudan Riek Machar, who stood as an independent candidate for Governor of the Unity State, was ahead of her rivals when reports last came in.

As a result of decades of violence, marginalization and civil conflict, women often lack access to key information on election laws and procedures. Women, and especially those that belong to rural and semi-urban settings, tend to be ignored in the established forums of electoral decision making even in their own parties. Result: very often, women’s participation in elections borders on mere tokenism.

Even though no official figures are out yet, many observers, based on first-hand visits to polling stations have confirmed that in most places, women outnumbered men in voting queues, particularly in the South. Reports from other parts of Sudan also indicate a similar trend.

Sudan ranks 150 on the Humand Development Index according to the 2009 Human Development Report published by UNDP. Life expectancy for women stands at just under 60 years. Adult literacy rates according to the HDR stand at close to 52 per cent vis-à-vis over 71 per cent for men, and estimated income, calculated in terms of purchasing power parity or PPP as per the 2007 data stood at USD 1,039 for women and USD3,119 for men.

Women in Sudan received their right to vote in 1964, the same year when they also stood for elections for the first time. A total of 17 seats in the out-going national Parliament were held by women.

The results of the trail-blazing 2010 elections are widely expected to be announced by this week-end.

Copyright (c) United Nations Development Programme Sudan, 2012. All rights reserved
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