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Sudan delegation highlights women’s role in politics and peace

The British Group of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (BGIPU) hosted an all-women parliamentary delegation from the National Assembly of the Republic of Sudan from 23 to 27 June 2014. The delegation comprised the Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly, Samia Ahmed Mohamed Hassan, and Assembly Members, Afaf Tawir Kafi Abrass, Dr. Badria Suliman Abbas Hamid, Marwa Osman Ahmed Gaknoon, Umbashair Mahmoud Shareef Adam and Hawa Abdelshafie Seneen Hussein. They were accompanied by Mr Hussein Mohamed Ahmed Elkanin, Parliamentary Advisor of the National Assembly. The Charge D ’Affairs, Mr Bukhari Ganim, Mr Mohamed Akasha and Counsellor Gaffar Somi also participated in some elements of the programme and worked closely with BGIPU staff on all arrangements.

On 23 June, following an introductory briefing on the operations of the Houses of Parliament, the delegation met with Ann Foster, the House of Commons Head of Diversity and Inclusion, to discuss the British Parliament’s recent work on equalities. The delegation had a working lunch with Baroness Tonge, member of the Women Peace & Security APPG, and NGO representatives including Gender Action for Peace and Security (GAPS), Christian Aid and Womankind, and discussed the role of women in conflict prevention and peace building in Sudan. The delegation highlighted the prominent role being played by women in peace and politics in Sudan with a quota of 25 percent of the National Assembly for women and a majority of current university graduates in the country being women. When asked why Sudan was yet to sign CEDAW, the delegation advised that the rights enjoyed by women in Sudan exceeded those provided by CEDAW so there was no need for Sudan to become a signatory.

Visiting London at BGIPU invitation specifically for the visit, the Head of the IPU Gender Partnership Programme in Geneva, Kareen Jabre, gave an afternoon workshop on the IPU’s global policy initiative promoting gender-sensitive parliaments. A welcome reception for the delegation was hosted by the BGIPU Chairman, Rt Hon. Alistair Burt MP, with a key focus on recognising the long historical relationship between both countries and the importance of parliamentary dialogue and exchange on issues of common concern.

The following day commenced with a tour of the Palace of Westminster led by Baroness Uddin, followed by a meeting with various representatives from different political parties, including Baroness Suttie and Baroness Jenkin, to discuss the role of political parties in influencing gender policy and increasing women’s participation in politics. The Lord Speaker took the opportunity of a parliamentary lunch hosted by Baroness Hussein-Ece to meet the delegation and give them insights into the work of the House of Lords.

Subsequently the delegation met the Minister for Women, Rt Hon Nicky Morgan MP, to talk about best practice in promoting women in the economy followed by a meeting with the Secretary of State for International Development, Rt Hon. Justine Greening MP, to discuss the global development agenda, UK assistance to Sudan and bilateral issues. Both Ministers registered UK concerns regarding the prominent case of Ms Meriam Ibrahim. The Sudanese delegation assured the Minister that due process was being followed, noting the original sentence had been overturned on appeal, and highlighted that religious freedoms were guaranteed and protected under Sudan’s Constitution. The delegation noted that in focusing on just one case, the international media were suggesting the sentence of apostasy was somewhat routine in Sudan but this was not the case at all and this case was not typical as it stemmed from a specific set of circumstances related to a family dispute.

The delegation was given the opportunity to discuss the importance of peer to peer mentoring in promoting women’s role in politics. They were encouraged to deepen their understanding of the benefits of mentoring both through a mentoring scheme with UK parliamentarians who volunteered (Ann McKechin MP, Baroness Hodgson of Abinger and Kerry McCarthy MP) and by replicating similar schemes with women entering politics in Sudan. A formal dinner for the delegation was hosted by the Sudanese Embassy at the Ambassador’s residence with a group of UK Peers which had visited Sudan previously.

The third day of the visit commenced with a detailed exchange between the delegation and UK counterparts through a roundtable discussions chaired by the Vice-Chair of the Sudan and South Sudan APPG, The Earl of Sandwich. In responses to questions, the delegation provided its perspectives on the situation in South Sudan, highlighting that while Sudan had made significant efforts to implement international commitments, South Sudan and members of the international community had often failed to meet their side of the bargain. The agreed that the conflict in South Sudan was detrimental to all and said Sudan was committed to its peaceful resolution to ensure a strong basis for economic development and growth for the peoples of both countries.

The delegation highlighted that US sanctions on Sudan also had impacts on its economy, including regarding its international debts and access to finance, which were hampering Sudan’s efforts to improve development in all areas of the country. China was already heavily invested in Sudan and the delegation said UK investment would be warmly welcomed, not least given the long historic links between both countries. UK members noted that the opportunities for growth and investment in Africa were well known and recognised in the UK but, in light of decades of conflict, Sudan needed to secure peace in all regions and provide a conducive climate for foreign investment and trade. In the regard, the delegation provided an update on the state of play in the National Dialogue, including efforts to better engage opposition groups in the process, working to accommodate diversity of views and different political groups, including opposition parties.

At a working lunch chaired by Mary Macleod MP, Chair of the Women in Parliament APPG, the delegation were told about measures taken by the UK Parliament to ensure recognition of gender issues and find appropriate balance among the sexes in political participation as parliamentarians. There was also a detailed discussion on the issue of religious freedoms in Sudan with the delegation again reiterating the protections accorded to peoples of all faiths under Sudanese laws.

On 26 June, the delegation was interviewed at BBC headquarters by the Arabic Service Team and Sudan correspondent, James Copnell. After meeting with various members of the Sudanese community to discuss issues facing the Sudanese diaspora in the UK, the delegation visited Helen Reardon-Bond OBE, Deputy Director and Head of Policy of the Gender Equalities Office, to learn about initiatives for women in business and related prospects for DfID to explore some capacity building work in Sudan.

Members of the visiting delegation ended their visit by meeting with the Head of the East & West Africa Department at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Harriet Matthews, to discuss bilateral political issues and explore the UK’s approach to development assistance and the conditionality of aid. The delegation also had the opportunity to pay a constituency visit to Westminster North to learn about the role of local government, including a working lunch with local Councillor Ruth Bush followed by a meeting with local MP, Karen Buck, who showed great interest in Sudan given the significant contribution of the Sudanese diaspora to her constituency.