“I was waiting for my father who promised to bring me Mango when he get home. I waited for him for three months… and then I knew that he was detained for political reasons. They arrested him in the classroom at the school where he was a teacher. “
This was my first time to be introduced to politics. I was four years old at that time and it was so difficult for me to understand the reason, why they keep my beloved dad in prison – he is such a peace loving person! I then recognized that this is just because we live in a country burned by conflict, dictatorship and severe discrimination.
My name is Walaa Salah, I was born in Khartoum in 1987. At the time, Khartoum was the capital of the largest country in Africa and the country was undergoing a transformation period – a period between the second and third dictatorships, one which has been the worst ever.
Both of my parents are teachers and they shared with me a sense of injustice – encouraging me that I should make things different in my country.
I enrolled the University of Khartoum, the biggest university in Sudan, in 2004 to study law. During my five years at school, I was deeply involved in student politics to promote democracy and working closely on the challenges facing the women’s students. I became one of the few women students who engaged and participated in public speeches, student union election’s campaigns and advocacy campaigns to promote women’s rights. In 2007, I was elected as the first woman and the youngest ever president of Khartoum University’s student union.
Immediately after my graduation I interned at the Sudan office of the Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA), a network of civil society organizations from across the Horn of Africa, established in 1995. I joined the team as a full time staff member after two months. My work with SIHA opened the door for me to work closely with the women at the grassroots level, those who were displaced because of the conflict between the north and south, and in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile states. It’s a learning experience for me, I am learning every day from the stories of women who survive war and its consequences, from displacement to sexual violence.
As an advocacy and networking officer for SIHA’s Sudan’s program, I am working on the efforts of reforming the discriminatory laws in Sudan especially the public order regime, a set of laws restricting the participation of women in both public and private arenas. The laws impact everything from prohibiting the dancing of women in-front-of\with men to the restriction of the work of women in the informal sector, especially as street vendors. I am also working on the issues of women’s economical empowerment and to get recognition for the work of the women in the informal sector, and above all – at SIHA – we work for the rights of the women and the people of the Horn of Africa to get sustainable peace, democracy and gender equality.
I believe that social change can be achieved only by the consistent and close work with the people – all the people – thus I do believe that we need to continue working closely with people at the grassroots level. Even though the needs of our people are greater than our capacity, the efforts of the women in Sudan will result in peace and equality.
I am so glad to be part of the Sister-to-Sister Mentorship Program with the Nobel Women’s Initiative. It is such a great opportunity for me to join the team here in Ottawa, to learn from their day to day methods of how they work, and to meet such fantastic other young women’s rights activists from Mexico and Palestine and to get to know about the work they are do in their countries. It is a great learning experience that I am already gaining a lot from it despite the short time since the beginning of the program.