The Health Forum on Gender Based Violence Symposium took place on the historic night of 18th of January 2020 at Corinthia Hotel and marked official launch of the monthly Health Forum on Gender Based Violence (GBV).
The monthly Health Forum on GBV was initiated in September 2018, under the joint partnership of the Institute for Reproductive Health and Rights (IRHR), the Obstetrical and Gynecological Society of the Sudan (OGSS) and the International Representative Committee of the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynecology of the United Kingdom (IRC-RCOG). Three forums on various GBV related topics were organized its first year before being put on hold by the 2018 Revolution. The forum then returned again in October 2019 in a new political and social climate to organize its forth forum and to launch officially into the wider community working towards combating GBV.
Initiated with the aim of providing a space for physicians to discuss the role they play in combating GBV. The forum also sought to establish links between physicians and professionals from fields such as law and psychology who work around GBV to deepen their understanding of the issues related to it.
GBV is a systematic, institutional and social problem facing the Sudanese community and especially its women. In a new age of democracy and positive social change for Sudan, GBV has been brought to the forefront of the discussion as more people grow aware of their rights. Government units, civil society organizations and international agencies have been working to combat this issue for many years in Sudan; each working separately and to some extent, in secrecy. In groundbreaking effort, the Symposium was held to bring together all the various bodies working around this issue to emphasize the importance of collaboration and to explore partnership and complementarity opportunities between different actors and stakeholders.
The symposium was attended by over 120 participants. Representing government bodies such as the Federal Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Labor and Social Development, the Ministry of Justice and the Child and Family Protection Unit, Ministry of Interior; and International organizations and institutions such UNFPA, the French Embassy and the British Council. In addition, nineteen local organizations sent fourth their representatives, many of whom were given the chance to present their work in front of all the other participants. And lastly, over twenty Obstetrician and Gynecology specialist along with twenty medical students attended the symposium as well.
Seven main speakers were selected to speak, each of whom representing a key component of the collective effort. Starting things off, symposium moderator and director of IRHR, Dr. Nahid Toubia spoke about the formation of the forum and the new political climate of the country. Stating the need for collaboration and transparency between all the different actors working around GBV.
Dr. Sawsan Abdelgayoum from IRC-RCOG and Dr. Sami Mahmoud, Secretary of OGSS followed suit and kicked off the presentations by speaking about the Forum’s journey and its plans for the future, respectively. The latter highlighting the lack of proper training for doctors, stating,
“There is a deep deficiency in the training of Obstetricians and Gynecologists in Sudan in the last 30 years and this has reflected negatively on women’s rights.”
Representing the government side, Dr. Shaima Makki, the director of the Reproductive Health Unit at the Federal Ministry of Health gave a riveting presentation about the Ministry’s role in combating and responding to GBV. Ending her message with,
“We need to incorporate gender mainstreaming in all future plans of the health sector. We must strengthen our human resources, update clinical guidelines and make GBV packages more accessible. We need to build trust and collaborate more with civil society and finally, we need to advocate for RH issues in the political sphere.”
She was followed by a presentation by Ms. Sulaima Ishaq, Director of the Unit to Combat Violence against Women and Children at the Ministry of Labor and Social Development.
After which, Ms. Aisha Abdul Majid Imam, Senior Adviser at the Human Rights Division at the Ministry of Justice, gave a speech discussing the legal perspective, along with the third presenter, lawyer and human rights activist, Mr. Al-Fateh Hussein.
Lastly, to reflect on the contribution of international agencies, Dr. Abeer Abd Al-Salam, Humanitarian Program Specialist and Head of GBV at UNFPA, spoke about the work done by the UNFPA and the country needs. Stating that,
“The estimate number of people in 2020 in need of SGBV services in Sudan, is 1.8 million… We must consider the whole country when setting a GBV program, not just the capital but all the peripheral areas.”
Finally, civil society representatives were given a chance to speak about their respective organizations and their role in combating GBV. They were asked to highlight the challenges they face and their recommendations for the future. This segment of the symposium gave all the attendees a chance to realize the magnitude and diversity of the work happening on the ground, from art programs, legal support of minority groups and media capacity building to direct medical and psychological support of survivors.
All in all it was a groundbreaking night. For the first time since the start of this new era for Sudan, all the different actors and stakeholders working on combating GBV were gathered under one roof to present their work openly and honestly. Where there was once secrecy and mistrust, there is now a collective demand for more coordination and collaboration. The government showed it readiness to support the health sector and to work jointly with civil society. The need for legal reform was highlighted and the available technical support of international agencies was emphasized. Attendees walked away feeling hopeful about the future and eager for the opportunities this monthly forum will in no doubt, bring forth.
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