Remarks in Honor of 2016 International Women of Courage Awardee from Sudan Ms. Awadeya Mahmoud
Special Envoy to Sudan and South Sudan
Good afternoon. On behalf of the U.S. Department of State I would like to welcome you to a very special roundtable in honor of Ms. Awadeya Mahmoud one of 14 women selected for this year’s International Women of Courage Award. This prestigious award is given by the U.S. Secretary of State to women who have challenged injustices and shattered ceilings in pursuit of full and enduring equality, often at great personal risk. Since the award’s creation in 2007, over 100 women from 60 countries have been nominated. I am proud to say Ms. Mahmoud is the second woman from Sudan to receive this great honor.
As we celebrate her today, we also reaffirm our steadfast commitment to the rights, security, and dignity of women around the world. In too many countries, women and girls continue to be denied access to education and political participation, married as children, trafficked into forced labor, and trapped in conflicts where rape is perpetrated as a weapon of war.
The efforts by women like Ms. Mahmoud challenge these indefensible practices. By promoting justice, exposing corruption, and confronting inequality, we are making deep and lasting investments in the future for not only women, but all of humanity.
While female leaders are successfully serving as heads of state, managing industries, and like Ms. Mahmoud, organizing grassroots movements, there is still much work to be done, in Sudan and around the globe, for societies to benefit from the full potential of women.
Today, Sudan has the third-highest prevalence of malnutrition in the world. Ongoing fighting in Darfur has displaced a total of 2.6 million people. A further 1.7 million are displaced by conflict in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states. Amid increased food insecurity, lack of resources, and violence, women have become targets for rape, assault, and harassment.
Because peace and security depend upon the inclusion of women and girls, my office and our U.S. embassies in Khartoum and Juba are actively ensuring women play a role in peace building. Our Inclusive Security program has provided a total of $1 million dollars for the past three years to advance the participation of women in peace processes through cross-border engagement between Sudan and South Sudan. By integrating women’s voices, we are working to prevent further conflict, support humanitarian assistance, and improve chances for lasting stability and peace in both countries.
In addition, our embassies in Khartoum and Juba are helping empower women and girls through workshops and exchanges in the fields of journalism, education, health, and civic engagement.
From the highest diplomatic levels, the U.S. government has called on the Government of Sudan to respect the universal human rights of its citizens, including the freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly. We remain committed to the people of Sudan and will continue to seek a permanent end to Sudan’s wars against its own people. We seek a cessation of hostilities followed by meaningful governance reform that will address the fundamental challenges of resource sharing and social equality, which have plagued the people of Sudan for far too long.
At this time it is my distinct honor to introduce a woman who was nominated by the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum for her courageous efforts to build a better future for women in Sudan. Displaced by conflict in Southern Kordofan, Ms. Mahmoud, moved to Khartoum and began selling tea on the side of the road. Often referred to as the “tea lady,” her attempts to provide for her family were met by daily threats and harassment by local authorities. Aware that she had no legal recourse, she organized women, encouraging them to engage politicians and use the media to draw public attention to the challenges women in the informal sector face. Ms. Mahmoud was imprisoned for four years for her advocacy. After a long legal struggle, the Sudanese courts finally ordered her release. With the help of the Sudanese Development Association (a Sudanese NGO), Ms. Mahmoud registered a formal organization, “The Women’s Food and Tea Sellers’ Cooperative of Khartoum State.”
Currently, over 7,500 women are engaged as members of the three cooperatives originally organized by Ms. Mahmoud. During 2015, the three cooperatives saw further expansion to 36 cooperatives scattered over the seven localities of the greater Khartoum region.
From humble beginnings, Ms. Mahmoud fearlessly resolved that turning away from injustice was simply not possible. Let the vision championed by Ms. Mahmoud inspire us to help others realize new opportunities and achieve their dreams.
On behalf of the Department of State, USIP, and the many men and women striving to build a more just and prosperous Sudan, I would like to personally thank Ms. Mahmoud for her courage and her advocacy… I will now turn the microphone to the woman of the hour and a true pioneer in social justice, Ms. Mahmoud.