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Womenís Empowerment in Garora

 

By: AwadAllah Y. Rahamn (1)

Introduction:

Garora is located in Eastern Sudan to the South of Port Sudan.  The Red Sea borders it 40 kilometres to the northwest.  It is bordered by the state of Eritrea in the East and by Mountains in the West.

According to the most recent estimates (1997), the population of Garora are 40,000.  The area, which includes the counties of Aideed, Kasrat Agig, Gilharti, Adogala, Agitaiand Eiterbah, is inhabited by the pasturalist tribes of Beni Amir, Al-Ahmada and Al Habab.  The main economic activities, in addition to herding, include rain irrigated agriculture and small scale cross-border trading in basic consumer goods.

During the severe drought that hit parts of the Horn of Africa in 1984, a total number of 30,000 population crossed the border from areas affected by drought in Eritre and into Garora.  As a result, the UNHCR established a big refugee camp and started channeling food and medicine through the Red Cross.  In 1990s, the UNHCR established a hospital in the area to cater for the health needs of refugees.  The hospital, which started to function in 1994, also catered for some of the health needs of the people of Garora and the surrounding areas.

Women of Garora: Education, Health, and Empowerment:

Women constitute the majority of population in Garora.  Despite the existence of a preliminary school for girls even before the area was liberated, one of the main problems is the wide spread illiteracy among women.  There is a high rate of drop-out amongst those who attend school.  For example, usually up to 50 girls join the the primary school in the first year.  In the second year the number drops to 40, then down to 30 and so on until in the final year it the number goes down to 12-13 female pupils.  Intermediate and higher secondary education was another story, given that the nearest intermediate school was in Toker area, and that the girlsí secondary school was in Port-Sudan.

A number of reasons account for this high rate of drop out.  Local customs and the dominant social system usually limit womenís abilities to pursue or continue with education.  Girls are married off as early as when they are in the third or fourth year in primary school.  Girls also have to help with tedious household tasks such as fetching water twice a day, walking 2-3 kilometres for that purpose.  They also help in fetching wood for fire.  The successive governments in Khartoum did not really exert any effort in order to encourage womenís education, nor did these governments induce any programmes of awareness-raising that underline the benefits of womenís education to the various communities in Garora and around it.

After the liberation of the area, some improvements took place as to the situation of women and with regard to their role.  Women are currently participating in various non-conventional areas.  They started to identify and emphasize their rights and duties as citizens.  SFC Amal Trust started establishing a centre for social services.  Women are being trained in areas of sewing, and home economics.  Although reproducing conventional gender roles, these classes constituted inlets so that other empowerment programmes can be gradually introduced, specifically with regard to womenís human rights courses, schools and literacy classes for women, and the establishment of kindergartens.  Women have started to solve their own problems and to express their views.  Women have also joined the armed units: fifteen women have just finished training within SAF recently.  All these forms of participation did not exist in the past, and they are not really resisted by many of the inhabitants in the area.  To the contrary, people in the area encouraged the training and attended the graduation of their daughters.

Another major problem that women encounter in Garora has to do with health and nutrition.  There is a very high rate of maternal mortality as a result of deteriorating health conditions and because of lack of adequate nutrition.  The main diet in the area consists of Asidt Dukhun (porridge).  Sometimes milk is added to the porridge but that is it.  There is no variation in the diet and vegetables are not part of it.

In Amal Trust, we started a health project where birth attendants perform weekly check and distribute necessary vitamines and other medicines.  These trained attendants also started to convince the women that it is better to make use of the big number of poultry in their diet instead of marketing it.  These health problems are being resolved gradually but steadily through the programmes of nutrition for women and children.

In addition to the problems associated with womenís reproductive health, TB is widespread in the area.  Amal Trust has started to combat this disease through the health centre.  We receive between 40-50 cases of TB every month, again a direct product of malnutrition and the absence of vegetables in the diet.  At present Amal Trust is establishing a project for the diagnosis and treatment of TB.  The instruments and medicines are being transported to the area.

Conclusion:

Like other marginalized parts of the Sudan, Garora and the areas surrounding it have experienced prolonged periods of neglect and social, economic and political injustice that had drastic effects on its people.  Women were affected even more severely by these conditions, and also by the prevalent customs.  The main problems that women face are associated with the deteriorated living standards and the lack of education, in addition to health problems.  There is also a need to intensify the process of awareness raising so as to improve the status of women.


There are glimpses of hope, however, and the position of women has shifted since 1997.  Women are working, together with men, in the centre for social services.  They are very enthusiastic about illiteracy programmes and are also acquiring a number of other skills, but also improving the skills they already have, such as preparing and selling hand made products.  They are also keen on attending the health-awareness classes, organized twice a week by Amal Trust.  This process was facilitated by the fact that the people in Garora, if compared to the inhabitants of Toqan for example, are more open to social change.  In order to encourage this openness, however, there is a need to find a solution to problems such as the need to fetch water and fuel from far places for example, and the difficulties in securing basic household needs.  Amal Trust, SWA, the Beja Relief organization are all working to that effect, in addition to the civil administration in the area, but there is a need for financial and technical resources that can help the people of Garora, specifically women, empower themselves.

 

[1] AwadAllah Rahama is the coordinator of the Garora Field Office, Sudan Future Care Amal Trust.  He is also a solidarity member of the SWA office in Garora