A sneak peek at rural women and literacy in Sudan

Last week we celebrated International Day of Rural Women, a day to advocate for all women and girls who play a fundamental role in our economy, environment, and society. Nevertheless, they face many challenges such as gender inequality, climate change, limited infrastructure, illiteracy, and others.

Today in our blog post we want to show the work of a blogger dedicated to all Sudanese women from disadvantaged and vulnerable backgrounds. Imogen Thurbon works directly with a charity to help these women to acquire Arabic literacy. Here her experience…

women literacy sudan 2Journeys to Literacy in Sudan

In a small outhouse, a women’s literacy circle meets twice a week. A bare rectangle of mud and corrugated iron traced on baked earth, the outhouse lies among the ramshackle settlements of mud-brick homes that huddle low under a late afternoon sky blanched white with heat.

You leave your shoes at the door and step into the dappled gloom of a room crowded with women of all ages. Some can be no more than in their late teens, other much older women nod and smile too in your direction though it is clear from the milky haze in their eyes that they are suffering from advanced cataracts.

For just a couple of hours, all these women have set aside the rest of their lives to be here.  Eager to acquire the urban literacies that will enable them and their families to flourish in the city, they bring to the circle the rural literacies and skills of their homelands in Nuba Mountains and Darfur. These women clearly believe or at least want to believe that literacy works.

women literacy SudanThe Long Road to Learning

The women attending this have been robbed of their right to education by poverty, family tragedy, regional upheaval, and in some cases ethnic and economic conflict. One woman told me she had never gone to school because her parents had only had enough money to educate one child and so her elder brother had been chosen for schooling. Another had been orphaned as a young girl and had taken on the responsibility of caring for her family alone.

Many come from regions increasingly affected by climate change which brings in its wake the loss of productive agricultural land, diminishing water supplies and forced migration to urban areas. Others have never had the chance to go to school because their home villages were geographically isolated and so had been overlooked by central government when it came to investment in educational resources. Others still have been forced into an early marriage or are simply of an age that meant they had never had the opportunity to study when they were young.


women literacy sudan3

Women tell their Stories

Why do women seek out literacy when so much is stacked against them? In one circle a participant explained what had motivated her to attend her local literacy group and the sense of empowerment and confidence it had given her:

“I had to go to the health clinic but because I couldn’t read the signs, I had to keep asking people for help in finding it. At last, I reached what I thought was the clinic and asked the man standing nearby if I was right. He turned to me and said ‘what’s the point of you looking for a clinic when you can’t even read? You should stay at home!’ At first, I felt terrible but then I got angry – angry that he thought he could insult me in that way. So I joined our literacy circle. Now I feel proud that I can read. No one will insult me again.”


If you want to read more stories and experiences about women literacy in Sudan please visit: https://womensliteracysudan.blog/

*The photos in this blog post belongs to Imogen Thurbon and may not be reproduced without written permission.