Peter Tibber

Ambassador to Colombia

Part of FCDO Human Rights UK in Sudan

12th March 2015

International Women’s Day: My “Week for Women”

Guest blog by Chloe Hamborg, Head of Political Section

It has been educative and inspirational to hear comments of writers and activists from around the world this week on the theme of women’s rights, in recognition of International Women’s Day on 8 March.

My “Week for Women” started on Saturday evening, attending an event at the Embassy of the Netherlands in honour of International Women’s Day. It was fantastic to hear the soft tones of all-female Sudanese band Al-Dingir, witness an exhibition of different artists, a theatre performance on women’s rights and several speakers – men and women – from Sudanese civil society.

On Sunday, back in the office, I was pleasantly interrupted throughout the day by email and WhatsApp messages wishing me happy Women’s Day and carrying inspiring quotes.

Starting to get hooked, on Monday I tuned into celebrations in my own country, watching online videos from the previous day’s events of hundreds of celebrities, activists and politicians take part in a march from City Hall to the Royal Festival Hall in London to show solidarity with women around the world.

International Women’s Day in London
Pankhurst leads the march for International Women’s Day along the banks of the River Thames in London

Finally, on Wednesday I came across an excellent blog by Ola Diab about 12 pioneering Sudanese women (and a man) who fought for their rights and education. Her blog picks up an important message of the UN Women’s HeforShe campaign, which is the role of men in promoting gender equality. It’s great that many of my male colleagues have signed their names to the campaign – I hope other male readers will sign up too.

The dedication of those thousands of women and men who have worked tirelessly – and in many cases, sacrificially – for the cause of gender equality is an important part of all our heritages. It was during my university years studying in Girton College at the University of Cambridge that I first gained a full appreciation of this. Although today Girton is a mixed gender college, historically it was one of the UK’s most important institutions in the development of women’s rights, having been founded in 1869 as Britain’s first residential college for women offering an education at degree level.

Girton College, Cambridge
Girton College, Cambridge
Emily Davies
Emily Davies, founder of Girton College, Cambridge

At the British Embassy, we place the promotion of human rights at the heart of all we do, and women’s rights are an integral part of this. With the cooperation of the inspirational women of Ahfad University, we recently supported the Sudan chapter of the global One Billion Rising initiative for a third successive year. On February 14 2015 we drummed, we rose and we danced in celebration of all the changes, like access to higher education, that have improved women’s lives in Sudan. We also asked for more to be done. Close to 1000 women and girls came together to make their voices heard.

Our campaign focused on the Arabic word nahda (النهضة), which recognises the need to renew our commitment to women all around the world, and to awake and raise our voices to support women’s aspirations and to protect them against any and all types of violence. We recognised that changes can start from the bottom up; from future mothers, teachers and leaders. Watch the video of the new Arabic “Break the Chain” song (كسر حاجز الخوف) online and help the song also rise around the world!

One Billion Rising
One Billion Rising in Khartoum, Ahfad University

As Ola Diab’s blog so powerfully shows, Sudan can be immensely proud of its heritage in gender equality, it has been the first country in the region to have a female parliamentarian, judge, TV presenter, police officer and more. But more measures need to be developed and implemented, to allow all the women of Sudan to rise and achieve their dreams and roles in developing the country.

The recent move to separate the crimes of rape and adultery within the Penal Code represents a significant step and is a tribute to the efforts of those who have tirelessly dedicated themselves to pushing for such reforms. I hope that we will never again be forced to witness the injustice that last year saw an Ethiopian rape victim in Khartoum tried for adultery and found guilty of indecent acts, while being denied the opportunity to bring rape charges against the perpetrators.

We also warmly welcome the commitment made by the Government of Sudan last July at the Prime Minister’s Girl Summit in signing a charter to end Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and child, early and forced marriage. But such commitments need to be translated into action. After over three decades of advocacy by civil society, FGM is still legal in Sudan, and changes to the family law to protect women from violence have not been made.

Over the last year, I have been grateful to those women who have welcomed me into their lives and helped me to understand Sudanese culture. The opportunity to learn to cook gorrasa, kisra and aseeda in Omdurman, and to wear a tobe – as recently featured on Blue Nile TV – was a definite highlight!

Learning to cook gorrasa and to wear a tobe at the home of Amal Elamin Bakhiet in Omdurman
Learning to cook gorrasa and to wear a tobe at the home of Amal Elamin Bakhiet in Omdurman

chloe 6

As I come to the end of this inspiring week, I would like to express my admiration of all those dedicated individuals – men and women – in government and civil society, family, social and educational life, who are working towards nahda for women in Sudan and around the world.   There is a lot still to do, and the UK Government will keep up its efforts to champion the cause.

About Peter Tibber

Dr Tibber joined the FCO in 1984 after completing a doctorate in medieval history at Oxford University. He has been posted to France, Turkey, Mexico, Germany and Pakistan. He was…

Dr Tibber joined the FCO in 1984 after completing a doctorate in medieval history at Oxford University. He has been posted to France, Turkey, Mexico, Germany and Pakistan. He was a member of the Senior Management Team of UKTI. He was ambassador to Sudan August 2011 to August 2015.

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