Jan 292010

The Women:
I embarked on this journey to make this doc film to provide the geo-political and economic context for the crisis in Darfur. But once I got to Sudan my camera lense was intensely focused on the women I met. The women, statuesque, some dreadfully gaunt, were always at work, thatching the roofs of their huts, carrying heavy buckets of water long distances, chasing after chickens and children. When they had a moment to look up they would stop and look me deeply in the eye and without a word – very few spoke English – their eyes, and sometimes with a subtle, barely visible gesture of the hand, spoke to me of their suffering, of their need.

No one ever asked me directly for anything, not once. But they did want to speak to the camera. And when I asked them what they needed the women and the men alike always gave the same answer – clean drinking water, schools, hospitals. They want to be self-sufficient. They want a sense of permanence. They want to rebuild their communities, and keep their families intact.

But the women stress one more ardent desire – they want their daughters to have equal access to education.

Between years of civil war, and the Shariah law that was imposed on the Southern Sudanese by the GoS, many schools (often connected to local churches) ceased to exist altogether. And today, even where schools can be found, the girls are often either strongly discouraged from attending for cultural reasons, or they simply can’t attend because they are needed at home. 90 percent of women in South Sudan are illiterate according to UNICEF reports. Only 500 girls graduate from primary school out of a population of about 7 million.

When I was last there in 2008, South Sudan was holding regional elections and for the first time women were part for that process. Women ran for local and county-wide office, as well as for ministerial positions. It is an experiment in democracy for the first time in South Sudan, where the people struggle to overcome tribal differences, wrangling over control of oil and land, on top of the already existing tensions between Southern Sudan and the GoS.

Women hope to bring their perspective, their needs, and the needs of their children to the forefront. As South Sudan continues to place much of its efforts on developing the oil industry, women talk about the need for schools and hospitals, clean water, and affordable food.

David Gressly, the UN’s Coordinator for South Sudan at the time, oversaw aid and development. Gressly echoed what many women had told me regarding development in South Sudan. Gressly said that the emphasis on development in South Sudan needs to be on education and on creating a viable, sustainable economy, one that is not based on the oil industry alone.

Jan 292010

Newshook, 2010
Sudan will hold its first nationwide general election in April 2010. Sudan’s President, Omar Al-Bashir, will run again for office. In early 2009 the International Criminal Court in The Hague issued a warrant for Bashir’s arrest, charging Bashir for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sudan’s Darfur region.

The election takes place against the backdrop of the ongoing crisis in Darfur, and a peace between North and South Sudan that constantly threatens to unravel.

The 2005 US-brokered Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended altogether 50 years of civil war between North and South Sudan mandates the clear demarcation of borders between the North and the South, a sticking point in negotiations because of oil found along the agreed-upon border. Control over oil fields and the equal disbursement of oil revenues – important for the continued development of South Sudan – play a big role in the ongoing conflicts within Sudan.

Those working to see that peace holds between North and South Sudan say the general election in 2010 will play an important role in the implementation of the CPA. And, in turn, whether or not Khartoum makes good on the peace dividends mandated in the CPA will determine whether or not South Sudan will vote to secede from Sudan’s National Unity Government in a referendum in 2011.

85 percent of Sudan’s oil is in South Sudan. If South Sudan were to secede it would take much of the country’s oil with it.

Easter Sunday, 2008 – South Sudan held its first midterm elections
A group of women delegates from the Women’s League of Upper Nile State stopped at the village where we had stayed the night. They were on their way to vote for the first time.

The late John Garang, South Sudan’s first President, had mandated that 25 percent of government positions should automatically be granted to women.

But women running for office are complaining that their male counterparts are not living up to Garang’s wishes, and that women in South Sudan continue to, “suffer exploitation and marginalization at the hands of South Sudan cabinet ministers,” according to the Deputy Chairperson of Women’s Affairs for Central Equatorial State, which includes, Juba, South Sudan’s capitol. The Chairwoman threatened not to vote for male contenders in upcoming general election.

* Interviews from Sudan are still in the process of being professionally translated.