February 25, 2022

CGA Visiting Fulbright Research Scholar Wala Ali Abdelbassit Zaid 
Aims to Promote Human Rights and Gender Equality in Her Native Sudan

The uprising of December 2018 in Sudan highlighted the power that Sudanese women have always had, and after 30 years of oppression the voices of Sudanese women are now stronger than ever.

Gender equality and human rights have always been passionate concerns for Wala Ali Abdelbassit Zaid. In her home country of Sudan, violence against women, child marriages, female genital mutilation, and lack of women’s freedoms are common occurrences. “Women and youth are among the most disadvantaged groups in my country,” said Ali, a visiting Fulbright scholar at the NYU Center for Global Affairs (CGA) who is conducting research on women’s activism in her native country. “The struggles for equal opportunity and education, especially in the rural areas, are real, not theoretical.”

Hailing from Khartoum, the capital city of the North African country, Ali has been fortunate enough not to have encountered the discrimination many of her countrywomen face. “The intersectionality of inequality is that so many factors contribute to the injustice that is happening,” she explained. “Age is a factor, gender is a huge one, as is ethnicity and income. So many factors determine where you are and what you confront.”

Ali honed her understanding of women’s issues through her education and workplace experiences in Sudan, where she earned a bachelor of laws degree from Omdurman Islamic University in 2010 and a master’s degree in gender and peace studies from Ahfad University for Women in 2013. After graduation, she worked at two NGOs, Youth Forum and Saferworld, on peacebuilding activities to create youth leaders and increase young women’s participation in the nation’s politics. “These were eye-opening experiences for me and deepened my knowledge of activism inside and outside of Sudan,” Ali noted. She applied for a Fulbright research grant, and came to the CGA in October 2021, under the sponsorship of Professor Sylvia Maier.

Her research will focus on the exceptional role played by Sudanese women in the recent history of her native country. In a grassroots movement, Sudanese women from all demographics were key figures in the December 2018 protests that led to the overthrow of 30 years of oppression by the previous totalitarian regime. More recently, in October, the military overthrew the civilian government. “The situation is unstable in Sudan,” Ali said. “Youth and women were targets of the military because they were the main actors in these protests.”

As part of her research, Ali will interview Sudanese activists to understand their mobilization efforts, priorities, achievements, and the obstacles and challenges they face. Her goal is to highlight the role that women activists have played and to promote their rights and freedom. Eventually, she would like to create an organization that produces data on women’s issues and human rights. “I understand how privileged I am to come here and to represent Sudanese women – it’s a huge responsibility for me, and I hope I can do justice to the topic,” she said.

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