Remarks by USAID Deputy Administrator Donald K. Steinberg at the Ahfad University for Women in Omdurman, Sudan

Saturday, April 9, 2011

It is my pleasure to join you today at this respected university, which is such an important part of Sudan's intellectual community. This is my third visit to Ahfad University, and I am always impressed, inspired and humbled by the dedication, wisdom and imagination of the scholars and students I meet here.

From its humble roots a century ago in the vision of Sheikh Babiker for a secular education for his sons and daughters, Ahfad University has assumed its rightful place among the great institutions of higher education in Africa and beyond, preparing women to take responsible roles in their families, communities and nation in a changing society.

We are indeed living in a time of great change in the world – in Arab countries, in Africa, and in Sudan. Located at the crossroads of the Arab World and Africa, Sudan has a unique role to play as a bridge between these two worlds, and women have a crucial role to play in the development of Sudan and in promoting peace and equality in Sudan and the region.

In the many years I have worked in Africa and around the world, I have witnessed time and time again the power of women's contributions to civil society and development.

In my first overseas assignment for the USG many years ago, I was sent to the Central African Republic. I was asked to start a rural health project. When I went to this rural part of the CAR, I began talking to the health providers in the communities – and found they were nearly all women. After consulting them on how we could improve health care in their region, we designed a project focused on mother-child health care, immunizations, and water and sanitation.

Two years later, when I left the CAR, we were already seeing fewer children dying from preventable illnesses, and fewer women dying in childbirth. There was also a new sense of pride among the women involved in this project, because they could see that their efforts were improving life in their community. Involving women as planners, implementers and beneficiaries of these efforts empowered them to think more broadly, and they soon became advocates for girls' education, for micro-enterprise, and for a larger role in the political, social and economic lives of their community.

I have found this around the world – women recognize what their communities and their families need to improve their lives, and society benefits when they are included in decisions about how money is spent and how change can benefit everyone in society – children, women, and men.

Here in Sudan, women have an important role to play in building society, including here at Ahfad. As a center of learning and cultural institution, Ahfad is helping women to reach their potential and enriching all of Sudanese society. I am particularly impressed with the University's community outreach programs, helping women in rural areas to become change agents in their communities. The University's innovative programs to bring rural women with leadership potential to the Ahfad campus for special leadership development training is a model for the world.

The United State government, including my organization – the U.S. Agency for International Development – highlights the importance of empowering women to be catalysts for positive change in their communities. There are three pillars of that effort. The first is ensuring that gender considerations and mainstreamed and fully integrated into our broad sectoral programs. This is why our education programs in Sudan focus on increasing girls' access to education, and training women's teachers. We have provided thousands of scholarships for girls to help them overcome financial barriers that were preventing them from attending school. We are focused equally on ensuring that schools are safe and welcoming environments for adolescent girls, and that mothers and fathers are involved in their daughter's education through parent-teacher associations. It has been rightly said that when you educate a girl, you educate a community.

A key effort in this regard is the recently established Granville-Abbas Girls' Secondary School for Girls in Kurmuk, Blue Nile, the first girls' secondary school in Blue Nile state, which was battered by heavy fighting and displacement during the civil war. This school is a model for education in the region, with a learning center that provides students and teachers with computer training and Internet access, dormitories for girls who live at the school, and a library. Thousands of girls and many communities in Sudan will benefit from the opportunities for learning that this school will provide over the years, and we are committed to replicating this model throughout Sudan.

Agriculture is another area in which USAID recognizes the important role that women play. Because women produce most of the world's food and are key to modernizing systems, we put women front and center in all our food security programs. Through our Feed the Future initiative, we are assisting Sudanese women farmers with training, as well improved seeds and techniques for irrigation and plowing that help them produce more food more efficiently. We are also committed to expanding the role of Sudanese women in the full value chain for agricultural products, including enhancing opportunities for their engagement as entrepreneurs in transport, financing, and marketing efforts.

A second pillar in our efforts in Sudan is to help protect women in the context of conflict and displacement, and to ensure their participation in preventing and ending violence. During my last visit to Khartoum in 2006, I was involved in training and assisting women to play their rightful roles in peace talks on Darfur and Eastern Sudan. Women from both northern and southern Sudan have been leaders in the CPA process, raising “uncomfortable” issues regarding gender-based abuse, domestic violence, and other vital subjects. They were prominent among civil society groups that provided independent observation of the national elections a year ago, and the South Sudan Referendum in January.

We have seen women in Blue Nile state participate in impressive numbers in citizen hearings for the Popular Consultation process in January and February, as part of the CPA. Thousands of citizens, many of them women, appeared at these public events across the state to express their opinions about the peace agreement, and listen to their fellow citizens express what their communities need. USAID helped support this process, organizing hearings across the state, and helping civil society groups and political parties to participate. We are also helping prepare women in Southern Kordofan for the Popular Consultation that will take place in their state, including through a week-long training for 30 women that will help give voice to their aspirations and increase their potential participation.

The third area of importance is the empowerment of Sudanese women to play their full and rightful role in the economic, political and social life of their country. We all know that when social order breaks down, it is women who suffer the most. But women are far more than victims: they are also the key to building just and lasting peace, stable and prosperous economies, and vibrant civil society.

In Sudan, USAID is committed to support women's political caucuses; micro-enterprise as well as women's engagement in small, medium and large enterprises; women's associations; girls' education and maternal-child health care. We are pledged to take our cues from the women of Sudan themselves.

In conclusion, let me say that the United States, including USAID, has stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the Sudanese people through some of your most difficult times, providing lifesaving assistance to families displaced by conflict in Darfur and before that in Southern Sudan, and helping Sudanese affected by floods, drought, and poverty.

As USAID celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, let me pledge our continuing commitment to work with you to build a better future for all of our Ahfad – or grandchildren. Just as the women of Ahfad University have recognized with the privilege of an outstanding education and opportunities comes the responsibility to give back to their society, we at USAID Americans here with you today are privileged to support you and your compatriots as you face a new and promising chapter in the history of Sudan. Nothing could be more important. Thank you.

Ahfad University for Women, Omdurman, Sudan

Last updated: July 31, 2012

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