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The Bane of ignorance



The Bane of ignorance

By Ashali Varma

Beijing, China: She has a gentle face and talks with compassion about the problems women face in Sudan.  She is a paediatrician and has come to Beijing as an NGO for the Sudanese Women General Union.

“The main  problem for our women is illiteracy.  In the rural areas the illiteracy rate is 70 percent where most of our women live,” said Dr. Sayda Mohamed Bashar.  “In these areas the children suffer from infection and malnutrition, which is common to most developing countries, but in Sudan it is due not so much to a lack of food as to ignorance and taboos,” Bashar said.

Bashar, like many NGOs from around the world has been involved in the preparations for the Beijing Conference.  She attended the Women in Peace meeting in Kampala, Uganda and also the last PrepCom in New York.  At the NGO Forum, Bashar contributed a lecture on “Maternal and Child health in Sudan: Present situation and future strategies.”

Bashar said that Sudanese law does not discriminate against women and women have equal rights and opportunities.

Sudan has a population of 25 million, of whom half are women.  With an economy that depends on agriculture, women in villages work at growing food crops and cash crops like cotton and sugar.  In areas away from the river—Nile water is a problem and the people have to depend on artisan wells.

Bashar said, “We brought some rural women to this Conference who are very respected in their communities.  After attending some of the workshops they realized how other women from developing countries had similar problems, and how some of them were coping.”

Regarding implementation of the Platform for Action, Bashar said, “When we talk about peace, equality and development, we would also like to stress equity.  Women need access to credit and to develop income generating activities.  This is important for poverty alleviation.” She also feels that governments need to be committed to this and UN agencies should increase their commitment to issues of health, education, credit and basic social development.

To the question whether this Conference will really help the women who need help most, Bashar said with a smile, “I am hopeful. I have nothing but hope.”