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Social change

Many narrators comment on how men and women are marrying much later than previous generations, a social change they clearly link to desertification and the poverty it has brought. Almost everyone remarks on this, albeit from different perspectives.

Fatima explains that in the past “you brought your camels, cows and goats to get married”, as the income from animal wealth was sufficient to cover the costs of marriage.

Today, young men have to work away from the village for two to three years in order to accumulate an acceptable amount of money for the dowry; some find it takes much longer. Ismail says: “now we…can’t get money to marry except after many years because we don’t have fixed jobs.”

Sayda and Osman both say part of the problem is that mothers won’t accept lower dowries because of “stubbornness” and fear of “stigma”.

daughters are unmarried or divorced. Having brought up her children on her own, she explains: “the men have nothing and they can’t take on the responsibility of a woman and children. I am carrying their burden and am so tired…”

Sayda mentions that the increased workloads of those left in the villages has also had an impact on social relations, leading to a “lack of association” between people.

Osman says weddings and funerals have changed for similar reasons: people have much less time to devote to such ceremonies, spending only three days on a funeral instead of the traditional 40.

According to Widad, some of the young men who spend time working elsewhere “try to imitate the people of towns in their clothes and they talk about what they have seen – notably on TV.” However, most say the young men are responsible, and come back with “new notions” that can help the community develop.


Social change is a key theme of the Desert voices: Sudan oral testimony project.


El Emam: no man remains

El Nour: inside my heart

Fatima: women are exhausted

Ismail: broader horizons

Madinah: progress is possible

Mekki: migration for survival

Naema: nothing the same

Osman: make land productive

Sayda: women’s lives

Widad: restoring the village

Key themes

Introduction to the project




Social change




Natural resources



Food security

Mutual support

Looking ahead