Sudan: On the International Women’s Day – Tribute to Ten of Sudan’s Greatest Women

Khartoum — Old and new, Sudanese women have contributed quite a lot to the position and progress of the country. The list of Sudan’s great women is long. But it may be suitable in this narrow space to mention just a few on the occasion of the International Women’s Day (March 8); ten women who had left their thumbprint on the country’s history page. Of these were queens of the Nubian Kingdoms, warriors who stood up to invading armies and pioneering women in medicine, education as well as fighters for women rights:

1- Amanirenas

The Great Queen of Nubia, Kingdom of Kush. Her name is also pronounced Amanjirena. She is best known by the title Kandaka (or Kindake) Amani. Kandaka refers to a great fighting, leading woman.

She ruled between 40-10 BC. As per historians, she was the wife of King Tretakas of the Kingdom of Kush and born him the Nubian Prince Akenedad. Upon the King’s death she succeeded him as the Queen of Kush. She was known to have led her Kingdom’s army to fight back the Romans at the Sudan’s Northern border. In the battle, she drove away the Roman garrison in the area, taking Roman captives.

Then fighting was renewed after her demise and ended up in a peace deal in 20 AD.

Queen Amani has left behind rare statues.

Stele of Amanishakheto

2- Amanishakheto

Amanishakheto was also a brave Nubian Queen. She is believed to have ruled the Kingdom of Kush from 10 BC to year one AD. Her name was found on an inscription in Meroe. She was recognized from her images on many artifacts and temples. An obelisk of hers was found in the Temple of Amun in the historical Naqa’a area. She is best known for a treasure of jewels, unearthed by the Italian treasure hunter Giuseppe Ferlini in 1834 and some of them is now on display at the Berlin (Germany) Museum.

3- Mehaira Bit Abboud

Mehaira is a warrior and poet. She was known to have played a great role in encouraging her people to fight the invading Turkish army in Korti area (Northern Sudan) on 4 November 1820. In the heat of the battle she used to encourage the fighters of the Shaygiyya clan, peeping from her howdah and chanting enthusiastic poetry for the men to keep fighting.

4- Rabha Alkinaniyya

Rabha Alkinaniyya was a simple farming woman who happened to play a decisive role in the Mahdia Revolution towards the end of the 19th Century.

The revolution’s leader, Imam Mohammad Ahmed Almahdi had managed to defeat the Turkish colonial army in Aba Island and moved westwards to the Gadeer Mountain.

The government sent a new army after him. Seeing this Army, Rabha walked on foot for several days to reach the Mahdi and warn him. Taking this important information from Rabha, the Mahdi ambushed and swept the Turkish troops. As a result much of Kordofan district fell into the Mahdi’s hands.

5- Malikat Addar Abdallah

Seen as Sudan’s first female novelist when she wrote the novel Alfaragh Alareed (The Wide Emptiness).

Malikat Addar Abdallah

She was born in 1922, beginning her education at the khalwa (seminary) of Ismael Alwali in the town of Elobied (North Kordofan-Central West). In the Khalwa she mastered the recitation of the Holy Koran. Then she graduated from the Algubba primary school, the first school to be set in the entire Western Sudan. Then she graduated from the Omdurman teachers training college in 1934. In 1960 she was appointed inspector of education in Kordofan.

She had published a lot of stories in the local and Arab press. Her novel “The Wide Emptiness” is a portrayal of the suffering of Sudanese women at that time.

She died in 1969.

6- Hajja Kashif Badri

Hajja Kashif Badri was a pioneer in the Sudanese Feminine movement, participating with her political activity in the formation of women awareness and the enhancement of women position in the country.

Hajja Kashif Badri was born in Omdurman and received her early education in the same city until she joined and graduated from the Faculty of Arts, University of Khartoum in 1956. Then she obtained an MA in History from Cairo University, Egypt.

Hajja Kashif

She grew up in a family which respects the liberty of women and this had encouraged her to read and write more about women and to engage in a lot of activity in this respect. She worked in the ministry of information and as a teacher, often writing in the press about women causes. She also worked in the UNESCO and was a founding member of the Sudanese Red Crescent.

She was chairwoman of the Social Welfare Council at the status of cabinet minister. Her husband was former Agriculture Minister Ali Altoam and her son, medical doctor Akram Ali Altoam, also became health Minister, after December Revolution, in 2019.

She wrote a book about the Sudanese women movement and another one about patriotic poet Khalil Farah.

7- Fatim Ahmed Ibrahim

Fatima Ahmed Ibrahim (1930-2017) is one of the outstanding women rights activists. At an early stage of her life she published the Sawt Almara’a magzine, to enlighten women and press for their rights. She co-founded the Sudanese Women Union (SWU) and chaired it during 1956-1957. The SWU opened membership to all women in Sudan and opened branches in different parts of Sudan.

She was a teacher by occupation and has gone down in history as the first woman to be elected member of parliament (1965) in the region.

She had written extensively on the causes of women, publishing her book Tarequna Liltaharrur (Our Road Towards Liberation) in 1966, in addition to other publications. She was wife of workers leader Alshafe’e Ahmed Alsheikh, who was executed by Dictator Nimeiri in 1977 after a failed communist coup.

Fatima Ahmed Ibrahim

In 1990 Fatima left Sudan after the Omer Bashir military coup, and joined the opposition in exile as the President of the banned SWU. She had received the UN award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field Of Human Rights (1993) and The Ibn Rushd Prize For Freedom of Thought for the year 2006 in Berlin.

She is remembered to have fought for and won the right to equal pay with men for her fellow women.

8- Fatima Abdel Mahmoud

Fatima Abdel Mahmoud (1945 – 2018) was a Sudanese politician. She had studied medicine in Moscow and practiced this profession until she joined the Sudanese Socialist Union of former strong-man Ja’afar Mohammad Nimeri in the early 1970s. She held several ministerial portfolios during Nimeiri’s rule.

Fatima Abdel Mahmoud

In 1973 she became one of the first women to hold political office in Sudan when she was appointed deputy minister of youth, sports, and social affairs. Her appointment, along with that of Nafeisa Ahmed al Amin as a member of the ruling Sudanese Socialist Union politburo, made international news at a time when contemporary estimates put the Sudanese female literacy rate at 10 per cent.

Abdel Mahmoud has served in parliament for 10 years.

She was the first Sudanese female to form and head a political party, the Sudanese Socialist Democratic Union. She took part in April 2010 general election as the country’s first female presidential candidate.

9- Khalida Zahir

Khalida Zahir (1927 – 2015) (also: Khalda) was one of the first female Sudanese doctors and women’s rights activists.

Khalida Zahir was born in Omdurman. She graduated from the Kitchener School of Medicine, what later became the Faculty of Medicine, University of Khartoum, in 1952, along with her fellow female medic Z. Serkisiani.

Khalida and Serkisiani were the first female doctors of medicine in Sudan.

Khalida treated poor people free of charge in her clinic. She became head of pediatrics at the Sudanese Ministry of Health. She retired in 1986.