Long-shot candidate tells Sudan women 'yes they can' 

Saturday, 10 Apr, 2010 

Fatima Abdelmahmud (C), Sudan's first ever female presidential candidate, 
attends a rally in Khartoum's twin city of Omdurman. -Photo by AFP 

OMDURMAN: Sudan's first female presidential candidate knows she stands no 
chance against President Omar al-Beshir, but says her ambitious bid will allow 
future generations of women to strive for the country's top job. 

Fatima Abdel Mahmud, a 66-year-old Soviet-educated professor of medicine and 
public health, was Sudan's first female minister in 1973 under President Gaafar 


Her small Democratic Socialist Union Party wants equal rights for women in 
Africa's largest country, where the perception that women lack the qualities 
and experience to hold high office is deeply rooted.


In a dusty lot in Khartoum's twin city of Omdurman, a dozen women, dressed in 
colourful traditional "thobe" sat faithfully for three hours waiting for Abdel 
Mahmud, or "the Prof" as she is affectionately called, to address the "rally."


A couple of men fiddled with wires, after an electricity cut brought total 
darkness to the makeshift football field, a corner of which had been reserved 
for the event.


Abdel Mahmud has taken her campaign across the vast country, relying on 
personal funds and meager donations from party members to pay for her travel.


She had been rallying all of Friday in the East Nile suburbs of Khartoum on the 
last day of campaigning for Sudan's first multi-party elections since 1986.


Voters will choose their president, as well as legislative and local 
representatives in the polling that begins on Sunday.


Abdel Mahmud wants free education, free health services, better development, 
but most of all equal rights for women.


"We want to empower women to take on positions of responsibility on all 
levels," said Abdel Mahmud, dressed in a mustard and brown thobe, peering at 
her supporters over tiny spectacles.


"We don't want symbolic representation. We want (representation) based on merit 
and activity and work," said the professor who wants to see Sudan go through 
"peaceful democratic change."


"I stand here as your candidate for the presidential election," she said to the 
raucous cheers of the small crowd who had braved the dry heat and the air thick 
with grit.

But supporters and members of her party concede that her chances of beating 
Beshir amount to zero.


"She doesn't want Omar al-Beshir's position. She knows she can't have it. But 
she wants women to see that one day they can be president," Asma Mohammed

al-Hassan, a member of the party's politburo told AFP.


The election has been marred by a growing opposition boycott and allegations of 
fraud by Beshir's National Congress Party whose opponents accuse of diverting 
state funds for his personal campaign.


"She has to run, even if the other opposition parties have dropped out. It's a 
matter of principle. She can't send the message that she's given up because 
others have," Abelmoneim Abdelgassem Habib Allah, a party member told AFP.


Abdel Mahmud herself, a women's rights activist since her days as a student in 
Moscow, says the goal of her campaign is to raise awareness, not to run the 


"I want to send a message to Sudanese women that they can hold positions of 
power," a weary Abdel Mahmud told AFP.


"I want to open the door for future generations of women. (The campaign) is an 
investment for their future," she said.


Current law provides women with a quota of 25 percent representation at all 
levels of government. However, this has not been fully implemented, and there 
is only a handful of female ministers and advisors.


In parliament, women control 16 percent of the 450-seat national assembly, but 
in this election a quarter of the seats have been reserved for women.


On the streets of Khartoum, meanwhile, some don't see the push for female 
representation as a top priority.


"Right now, we have bigger problems. The country is going through big changes," 
said Abdelrahman who only wanted to be identified by his first name.


"I do believe women should be part of the process, but right now, let's just 
focus on the country being alright," he told AFP.


The three-day election is a prelude to a 2011 referendum on independence for 
south Sudan, leaving many resident of the war-ravaged country anxious about 
their future.

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