In the early hours of Saturday 12th August Fatima Ahmed Ibrahim, a renowned Sudanese leader of the feminist movement and fierce defender of women’s rights within the Horn of Africa region, passed away.
Fatima was born in 1933 in Omdurman, and was a staunch advocate for women’s rights in Sudan. Her activism began in the late 1940’s, while Fatima was still a high school student, when she joined the nationalists movement in their struggle against the colonial regime at the time.
By the late 1940s she had joined a group of women activists and together they founded the Sudanese Women’s Union (SWU) where she had served as its president during a large portion of her political activism. During her time as president of the union, the membership grew to over 1500 members. The union contained members from many different regions located across Sudan, including southern Sudan regions, Nuba Mountains and Darfur.
At the time SWU was considered one of the main actors fighting to reaffirm the rights of women in Sudan. Those rights included political participation, engaging in public spheres, and equal pay. Not only that but the union was the first to publish one of the first feminist magazines of its kind in the continent called Sawt al-Marʾa (Woman’s voice). In 1965, Fatima became the first woman to be elected into parliament on behalf of the communist party which led the way for women to actively engage in decision making processes. In 1991, Fatima was elected President of the Women’s International Democratic Federation and she became the first African Muslim woman to hold this position leading to her receiving the UN award for Outstanding Achievements in the Field of Human Rights just two years later.
Although the climate for women in Sudan has deteriorated both politically and legally over the past 30 years, the accomplishments of Fatima Ahmed Ibrahim and her companions continue to assist in advancing the evolution of the women’s movement in Sudan. Sudanese women’s strength and capacity to keep battling a male-dominated regime continues to prevail and their desire for equality has never faded in spite of the complexities prevalent within their social and domestic environments while confronting poverty, armed conflicts and militant ideologies.
We as women’s rights activist in the East and Horn of Africa region will always remember and appreciate the legacy and contributions of those like Fatima Ibrahim who dedicated their lives to battling the oppression against women. It is extremely important for younger generations to recognize this contribution and continue the struggle for justice and equality for all.