At my arrival in Khartoum, Sudan, I was filled with excitement for visiting the country – not only because half of its entire population is younger than 18, but also because Sudan just experienced a shift of political power that started with street protests throughout the nation in December 2018, and continued for about eight months. In and beyond the Sudanese Revolution, young Sudanese people – especially young women and girls – played a key role in the country’s peacebuilding and development. In fact, they have been at the forefront of the revolution, pushing tirelessly for peaceful political change to ensure a more just and inclusive Sudan.
I started my first day in Khartoum meeting with H.E. Walaa Isam Elboushi, the Minister of Youth and Sports. Walaa is a youth activist who played an important role as a spokesperson in the revolution, and who became the youngest Minister in the Transitional Government when she assumed office in September 2009 – such a role model and only 32 years old! We discussed our common goal of involving young people in the country’s democratic transition in a meaningful way, and of ensuring young women’s role in peace and security discussions. In a meeting with young activists from different sectors, we spoke about young people’s contributions to and ownership of the forthcoming national Youth Policy, and the importance of a dynamic, inclusive and representative youth sector. I was deeply inspired by these young activists’ drive and optimism! After that, together with UNFPA Sudan I visited Tuti Island, in the middle of Khartoum where the White and Blue Niles merge. For more than 20 years “Mama Igbla” – an impressive local pioneer – has led a community safe space that is used to raise awareness about children’s rights through activities such as the ‘Free of FGM\C Initiative’.
Walking around in Khartoum, it is hard not to notice that the streets everywhere are covered with art celebrating the revolution. This art is the expression of the Sudanese young people who used graffiti, poetry, and music to raise their opinions and share their stories of growing up in a repressive regime. This really manifests how arts and culture intersect with politics and can be used to express values of peaceful change, tolerance and solidarity. I’m so grateful to have met some of these courageous young artists and activists and see their inspiring murals!
On the second day, together with the Minister for Youth and Sports, I travelled to EI Obeid, where I was welcomed by amazing traditional dancers and singers, as well as the local Governor. They had organized a Youth Townhall meeting with young people from 18 states all over Sudan. Following hours of dynamic groups work we had a good discussion about their ideas, opinions and suggestions on ensuring good governance, bringing just and democratic reform, youth unemployment, as well as peace and security. I then visited the University of Kordofan, where I had an eye-opening discussion with young students whose determination in fighting for a better Sudan was striking.
In El Obeid, I also met with a group of Y-PEER SUDAN. Listening to those young people’s stories, I saw how frustrating it is to grow up in a society in which gender stereotypes limit one’s opportunities. We all agreed that only through dialogue and by raising awareness, we can change cultural norms and behaviours and move towards a more equal future – however, gendered expectations about education and livelihoods, rates of gender-based violence and the occurrence of child marriage tell us that there is a long way to go.
That night, I joined a very emotional celebration of the revolution. Young people’s stories were showcased through different creative expressions– one more original than the other – such as shadow theatre, music and painting, and it was clear how art in various forms act as ways to heal collective trauma and strengthen unity. I was deeply moved and humbled to share this experience with the inspiring and courageous young people of Sudan.
On the third day, I met with the United Nations in Sudan, the Private Sector and Donor Community. Through a series of conversations, we explored how all stakeholders can catalyze this moment of change and work together to create more opportunities for young people.
I was pleased to attend the Women, Peace and Security Meeting organized by UN Women in Sudan with 20 young women leaders. They shared their inspiring experiences, visions and expectation due to intersectionality about the transitional government in three thematic areas: women’s peace and security, women’s political participation, and women’s economic empowerment. We agreed on an urgent need in gender accountable mechanisms to ensure young women’s participation in decision-making.
I also had the pleasure of catching-up with Alaa Salah – a young architecture student who by coincidence became “the face of the Sudanese Revolution” because of a picture that went viral on social media – about the power of mobilization and the backlash many young activists face when standing up for human rights.
In many ways, my visit to Sudan was an emotional encounter. What I heard most from young people was that “the first time we got to practice democracy was when we took to the streets”. Given the transitional context, I was struck by young people’s passion, courage and hopes for the future, and it served as a reminder of our responsibility as the UN to bring their valuable contributions to the forefront of the global agenda. Now that the revolution is a reality, we need to help advocate for their meaningful engagement at all levels of decision-making – cause a new democratic Sudan is dependent on its young people and they are all ready to play a positive part.