Since the 1950s, Sudanese women have always been pioneers in various fields including such as education, science, politics, engineering and more. Women like Khalda Zahir, Fatima Ibrahim and Fatima Abdel Mahmoud will be remembered for generations for accomplishing many firsts as women in Sudan as well as in the MENA region. On International Women’s Day, they should be remembered and recognized. (Read 15 Women (and Two Men) Who Fought for Women’s Rights and Education in Sudan)
As the resilient women of the past are remembered, a new generation of remarkable women rises. As they embark on their relatively “young” careers, here are some young Sudanese women you should know about — for their achievements, no matter how big or small.
(in no particular order)
Sudanese-Australian Yasmin Abdel-Magied is a mechanical engineer and social activist. At the age of 16, she established an organization called Youth Without Borders, empowering young people to work together for a positive change in their communities. Named the 2015 Queensland Young Australian of the Year, Abdel-Magied advocates for the empowerment of youth, women and those from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. The Muslim activist was named Young Australian Muslim of the Year in 2007 and recently Youth of the Year in the Australian Muslim Achievement Awards. She was also named 2010 Young Queenslander of the Year in 2010. In 2011, Abdel-Magied graduated with a Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering (First Class Honours). In 2012, she was named Young Leader of the Year in the Australian Financial Review and Westpac’s inaugural 100 Women of Influence Awards as well as InStyle’s ‘Women of Style’ and Marie Claire Woman of the Future. In addition, she published a memoir at the age of 24, talking about growing up in Australia, running a race-car team and working as a mechanical engineer on oil rigs.
Based in the UAE, Sudanese-Iraqi Maha Jaafar is a dentist turned comedian. Although she graduated from Ajman University with a degree in dentistry, Jaafar is one of YouTube’s up and coming stars, praised for her ability to unite Arab cultures by impersonating different regional accents. She has been named a fellow of YouTube’s Creators for Change program, aimed at boosting the profile of innovators whose videos promote “empathy and understanding”. Jaafar’s videos show her impersonating various cultures, mimicking Arabic accents from countries such as Iraq, Sudan, Egypt and Lebanon. She occasionally also takes on some English language accents. Her YouTube success, which only started two years ago, has led her to being featured on comedy channels in Jordan, Lebanon, London and more. She even made it to the show of Saudi Arabian-Yemeni comedian and presenter Bader Saleh. She also had the opportunity to interview Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai. Jaafar recently reached a milestone of reaching more than 100,000 subscribers on her YouTube channel.
Based in France, Dalia Haj-Omar is a Sudanese human rights activist, writer and conflict management expert who has worked extensively in the MENA region. She holds an M.A. in International Development and Development Economics from Johns Hopkins University and an M.A. in International Peace Studies from the University of Notre Dame. She managed United States Agency for International Development/Office of Transition Initiatives-funded projects in Sudan, and has been officially identified as a Senior Development Officer at Development Alternatives, Inc. She has also been associated with GIRIFNA, the Sudanese Non-Violent Resistance Movement. She has also worked with Human Rights Watch, Doctors Without Borders, UNICEF, The World Bank, and Chemonics. Her reportage and opinion pieces have appeared in publications such as The New York Times and Foreign Affairs.
Sudanese-British philanthropist Hadeel Ibrahim is the daughter of billionaire businessman Mo Ibrahim of Mo Ibrahim Foundation and Dr Hania Fadl of Khartoum Breast Care Centre. She became the Executive Director of Mo Ibrahim Foundation, at the age of 22. Established in 2006, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation aims to help African leaders govern their countries more efficiently. Ibrahim is also co-Chair of the Board of Directors of the Africa Center in New York, whose mission is to promote partnership, collaboration, dialogue and understanding between African artists, business leaders and civil society and their counterparts in the US and beyond. Ibrahim sits on the Boards of the Mary Robinson Foundation for Climate Justice, the Clinton Foundation, Synergos Institute, Femmes Africa Solidarité (FAS), 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair, and the Governing Board of the African Governance Institute (AGI). She also serves on the Dean’s Advisory Council for the School of Architecture and Planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Advisory Board the Institute for Innovation & Public Purpose at UCL and the Council of the ICA. She is a member of Amnesty International’s Secretary General’s Global Council, a member of the International Advisory Committee & Jury of the London Design Biennale and is a Patron of Restless Development, a youth led development agency.
Sudanese-British Nesrine Malik is a journalist and op-ed writer, mainly focusing on Middle Eastern politics and minority matters in the UK. She was born and raised in Sudan, and in fact a graduate of the University of Khartoum. Malik moved to the UK at the age of 23 to pursue a career in jounalism. She moves between Sudan and the UK, doing in-depth dispatch for Foreign Policy magazine twice a year. She’s also a panelist on Dateline London, a weekly news discussion program on BBC News. The former private equity investor is now a columnist for The Guardian. She’s one of the leading commentators and critics of Britain’s immigration system and a voice for British Muslims in Great Britain. She received the Society and Diversity Commentator of the Year award at The Comments Awards 2017.
Sara Suliman is a Sudanese Chevening scholar, activist, youth advocate and feminist based in Sudan. She obtained a bachelor’s degree from Ahfad University for Women in 2010 and in 2017, she was awarded a MA in Gender Studies from SOAS, University of London. Motivated by the belief of the significance of women’s role in social change, she utilized social media as a tool for change. With more than 22,000 followers on Twitter, she created an active platform that speaks the language of the Sudanese youth and insures their voice to be heard. Through activism, Suliman was enabled to contribute to advocacy campaigns, raise funds and represent Sudan on international TV channels.
Based between UK and Sudan, Yousra Elbagir is a producer for Elephant Media and a freelance reporter covering news and culture. She writes for BBC Africa, BBC Radio 4, BBC World Service, CNN Africa, Financial Times and The Guardian. Coming from a family of journalists, Elbagir is the younger sister of the award-winning CNN journalist and TV correspondent Nima Elbagir. While studying Social Anthropology at the University of St Andrews, she nurtured her love for journalism and debate, leading to her involvement in local student publications. In 2016, Elbagir received the Thomson Foundation Young Journalist Award for her outstanding reportage. In 2017, she was enlisted in OkayAfrica’s 100 Women, celebrating African women who are making waves, shattering ceilings, and uplifting their communities.
Based in Sudan, Omnia Shawkat is the co-founder of the online cultural magazine, Andariya. Through Andariya, Shawkat built a bilingual digital platform to show Sudan and South Sudan through their eyes to a broad audience inside and outside the Sudans. In 2017, Shawkat was named one of the ‘Top 9 Women Tech Innovators in Africa’ by IT News Africa by IT News Africa. Shawkat was born in Sudan but lived in the UAE, Qatar, Libya and Egypt, as well as the Netherlands and US. She studied biology in Egypt and environment and resource management in the Netherlands. Before starting Andariya, she worked on sustainability and development at the UN, then later at a French research institute and a US-based non-profit. Shawkat and Salma Amin Saad ventured into digital media with Andariya in February 2015. It’s available in English and Arabic, and its goal is to target youth and provide a platform of technology, edutainment, and contemporary and gender issues.
Salma Amin Saad
Co-founder of Andariya, Salam Amin Saad lived in the Arab Gulf states — Saudi Arabia, Qatar and UAE. She studied in Qatar before finishing her undergraduate degree at the American University of Sharjah, where she majored in marketing. After graduation, Saad was hired at Al Jazeera Media Network’s marketing department, where she is still working. She won the first runner up at the Africa Peace Builder Award 2016. In addition, Saad’s marketing campaigns earned her won several regional and international awards for their creativity and effectiveness.
Based in the UK, Sudanese-British Asma Elbadawi is a Visual Artist, Spoken Word Poet, Basketball player and Coach. She was a Words First BBC1 Radio 1xtra Leeds Finalist in 2015. She received a Masters degree in visual art. Elbawadi is one of the drivers of a social media campaign that successfully lobbied the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) to remove a ban on hijabs and religious headwear in the professional sport in order to create an even playing field for both men and women of all faiths such as Sikh’s Hindus and Muslims. The headgear ban was lifted in May 2017. A number of change.org petitions calling for a change to the rule garnered more than 137,000 signatures.
Safia Elhillo is an American-Sudanese poet and writer based in Washington, DC. She is a Cave Canem fellow and poetry editor at Kinfolks Quarterly: a journal of black expression. She received an MFA in poetry at the New School. Safia is a Pushcart Prize nominee, co-winner of the 2015 Brunel University African Poetry Prize, and winner of the 2016 Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets. She is currently working on her first full-length collection, The January Children, which is forthcoming from University of Nebraska Press in 2017. She has performed at TEDxNewYork, the South African State Theatre, the New Amsterdam Theater on Broadway, and TV1’s Verses & Flow. She is currently a teaching artist with Split This Rock and a poetry editor at Kinfolks. (www.safia-mafia.com)
Based in Sudan, Reem Abbas is a Sudanese freelance journalist and winner of the 2011 Blogger award for her blog wholeheartedly-sudaniya.blogspot.com on human rights and current affairs in Sudan. She studied sociology and journalism as an undergraduate and studied gender and migration studies at the graduate level. She has been working in the field of communications and advocacy for Sudanese civil society groups and organizations for several years. She has worked at Sudanese independent newspapers as well as international news organisations. Her writings on press freedom have appeared in the Index on Censorship and Doha Center for Media Freedom. Her articles on human rights and socio-political commentary have been featured in the Christian Science Monitor, IRIN news, Al-Monitor, The Guardian, Open Democracy, African Arguments, Medium, Nuba Reports, Women’s E-News, Africa Review and more. She was a columnist at Open Democracy in 2012-13 and a Women Deliver fellow in 2013. As a researcher, she also spent years working with Sudanese refugees in Egypt and published a profile on a young musician and refugee in the book, “Voices in Refugee”, published by the American University in Cairo Press. She recently contributed to the Journal for Middle Eastern Women’s Studies.
Moving between the US and Sudan, Sara Elhassan is a freelance editor, and a well-known poet and blogger. Elhassan is a cofounder of Nas With Notepads, monthly poetry/spoken word events to promote the literary arts in Khartoum. She is well-known for a spoken word piece titled Video Response, which is a retort to a Sudanese professor, who appeared on a program on Blue Nile TV, claimed that most Sudanese women were ugly. She explains what the episode reveals about the Sudanese society. In the weeks that followed, Video Response received a staggering number of views, and sparked a fascinating response of its own. She then wrote about on African Arguments. (alucan.wordpress.com)
Cofounders Muhga Eltigani and Sam Roberts were enlisted in Forbes 2017 30 Under 30: Retail & Ecommerce list. Together, they founded their startup NaturAll Club, a subscription e-commerce company with hair products geared towards women of color and those with curly hair types. The company, which ships out to all over the United States and Canada, is fully bootstrapped with Eltigani investing $18,000 of personal savings. The two sources ingredients from Ghana and Malaysia. Eltigani is Sudanese-American based in the US. She is a University of Pennsylvania graduate (Triple Major in International Relations, Religious Studies and African Studies) who decided to forego law school to work full-time with cofounder Roberts on their startup. Prior to NaturAll Club, Eltigani Eltigani decided to cut off her hair three years ago and use only natural products that she made herself. She started a YouTube channel about her emotional transformation with the natural hair products and she challenged viewers to do the same and report back to her. The channel grew to nearly 40,000 subscribers and her viewers began asking her how to make the hair products she was using. So she decided to sell them.
Sudanese-American Reham Fagiri is the cofounder and CEO of AptDeco, which is a US-based peer-to-peer marketplace for buying and selling quality pre-owned furniture. She was born and raised in Sudan but then came to the US to pursue her undergraduate studies at the University of Maryland. When I landed a job at Goldman Sachs right after college, she moved to NYC. That’s when she launched AptDeco, in 2013, after graduating from the prestigious Silicon Valley tech accelerator Y Combinator. Forbes, Business Insider, New York Daily News and more have since dubbed Fagiri a successful entrepreneur.
Huda Shafig joined the Taskforce for the Engagement of Women in the Peace Process. She became the Taskforce for the Engagement of Women in South Sudan and Sudan in 2013, where she advises the government on how to make the country’s national dialogue process more transparent, accountable, and inclusive — increasing the positions reserved for women from 10 to 200 seats (29%). Since 2013, Shafig has also worked to fulfill the peace agreement between Sudan and South Sudan, serving as a conduit between women and senior officials in both countries. She has interviewed 100 residents along the border between Sudan and South Sudan to communicate their priorities to policymakers. In 2009, she co-founded a youth organization to advance peace education, development, and human rights. Shafig holds an MA in Coexistence and Conflict and is a graduate of Columbia University’s Human Rights Advocates Program. She leverages a decade of experience in community peacebuilding and women’s rights in her work for gender equality and social justice.
Yousra Elsadig is an award-winning designer and a mother of two based in Cardiff. She graduated with honours from the University of Toronto. She moved to Cardiff where she is currently pursuing a degree at Cardiff University to become a doctor of optometry. In 2016, Elsadig launched her award-winning modest brand, Boutique de Nana, specializing in unique and trendy modest clothing made with carefully selected fabrics. Her business was shortlisted for the Fashion Entrepreneur of the Year at the Entrepreneur Wales Awards 2015, and she was the Designer of the year 2016 by the Modest Association of London. She also won The Best Designs in the Middle East 2016 by Mona Almansouri and Foochia Channel from amongst 3,000 entries. In addition, Elsadig was nominated as ‘Best Fashion Designer’ in Black British Entertainment (BBE) Awards 2017 and was named the Most Inspirational Female in the UK and Woman of the Year by Barclays 2017. She showcased her designs on national and international runways during Torino Fashion Week in Italy and London Fashion Week in the UK. She also recently represented Sudan during Geneva Arab Fashion Week.
Emtihal Mahmoud is a Sudanese-American poet and peace activist who won the 2015 Individual World Poetry Slam championship. Mahmoud was born in Darfur and moved with her family to Yemen when she was a toddler, then to the US in 1998. They first arrived in Philadelphia where she attended Julia R. Masterman High School then won the Leonore Annenberg Scholarship, a prize covering all costs for four years at any college in the US. She then decided to pursue an education at Yale University where received a Bachelor’s Degree in anthropology and molecular biology. As a poet, public speaker and activist, Mahmoud presents poetry to raise awareness and aid to address the genocide in Darfur. She was on the BBC’s 100 Women list of “the most inspirational women across the world in 2015,” and invited to a 2016 roundtable with President Obama when he visited the Islamic Society of Baltimore. Mahmoud has recently embarked on a 1290 km two-month “peace” walk from Northern Darfur’s capital city of al-Fashir down to the nation’s capital, Khartoum. Over 60 have volunteered to accompany Emi on her long walk that will have some pauses in el-Obied (Northern Kordofan), Kosti (the White Nile State), Jebel Awlia (on the outskirts of Khartoum) and then downtown Khartoum.
Assil Diab is a Sudanese visual artist, graphic designer and graffiti artist based in Qatar. She graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2011 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in graphic design and took up various fashion design courses while studying in Richmond, Virginia. Before embarking on her freelance career, Diab worked at Doha Film Institute (DFI) and Al Jazeera Children’s Channel. Known as Sudalove, she aims to break the misconceptions about Sudan and break the boundaries set for Sudanese women in particular. Diab exhibited her artwork at Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar, Iwalewahaus in Beyrouth-Germany in 2017, Red Bull’s Artspace in Bahrain called ‘Malja’ in 2015 and 2016, Karmakol Festival 2017 in Sudan and more. During ‘The ‘Urban Nest’ exhibit in Bahrain, a book entitled ‘The Khaleeji Voice’ was launched, consisting of a six-part book series about artists based in GCC nations where Diab (rising from Qatar) was featured. Her work has also been featured in Sudanese and international news channels including Sudania 24, BBC and Radio Monte Carlo.
Honorable mentions (updated):
- Wafaa Alamin, founder of The Zol and Zola Club
- Sudanese jazz musician Rasha Sheikh Eldin
- Writer and researcher Azaz Elshami
- Al Jazeera TV presenter, Mayyada Abdo
- Poet and blogger Najla Salih aka Nubian Queen
- Director and editor Sarra Idris of the film, Adam & Howa
- Journalist Hajer Osman, founder of Hosh Azza digital magazine
- Artist Dar Al Naim
- Artist Huda Hashim of Hudarts
- Razan Idris, curator of the Sudan Syllabus
- Nawar Kamal, founder of NK Jewellery
- Makeup artist Sulaf Elamin
- Beauty blogger Shahd Batal
- Digital media strategist and public speaker Riham Osman
- Writer, creative director and advisor Rozan Ahmed of Bougi
- Activist Dalia Elroubi
There must be more. Name some young, empowering and successful Sudanese women you think people should know about in the comment section below.
Happy International Women’s Day!