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Sayda: women’s lives

Sadya: 'Most of the youth in the village are not married'

Sayda is 22, and does voluntary work as a teacher. She has seven brothers and three sisters, two of whom work while the others are at school. This is an unusual situation in her community, where” most of the boys are expelled from the schools because of the [unpaid] fees… The little ones work as shepherds… The older ones migrate”.

She describes the many impacts of desertification. Most men, young and old, now migrate for work; stress and hard labour mean that people have less time for each other; food production has been dramatically reduced; and women’s workloads have greatly increased. Just to collect fuel, she says “a woman walks about 5km on sand dunes, carrying firewood on her head”.

Women’s lives are being affected in other ways too. It takes much longer to build up an acceptable dowry so girls are waiting years to marry, sometimes losing the local young men to girls in the city. Despite this, Sayda says, many mothers refuse to accept lower dowries because”they think that it… will be a stigma”.

The effect [of desertification] is clear. There is no agriculture and no trees due to scarcity of rains – and that has led to low yields and reduced pasture… We depend on those who migrate to the cities: 75 per cent of the village’s youth are migrants working in the cities because there is no agriculture or pasture here…

Most of the boys are expelled from the schools because of the [unpaid] fees…The little ones work as shepherds in or outside the village. The older ones migrate.

Food security

[Nutrition has changed], for people here depend on agriculture and its products. Due to lack of rain, crop production – for example of millet – was slashed. The food has changed because we have started to meet our needs from the cities. In the past, we were relying on the animals and their milk, for it is good for our bodies.

We cultivate sesame, millet, watermelon, okra, and cowpea. Prices have plunged. Today, the malwa (half a mid, measure equal to about 3 kg) of sesame is 150 Sudanese dinar while in the past it was 300. We rely on sesame entirely.

We also depend on livestock. They are few… Some other tribes graze on our lands. [There are no problems] though they do contribute to the depreciation of the pasture. They come with their animals for two days and then they leave.

Social change

But we also depend on our men, who work in the cities mainly… Some of the migrants come back in a changed way, though the village is not far away from the city… The social impact of [desertification] is clear in the lack of association, of relations, between people – due to lack of time.

And most of the youth in the village are not married. There is celibacy among young people. There are more girls here than boys. Most of the boys are unemployed. Yet every mother insists on having everything that her daughter should have [as dowry]. The costs of marriage are high and so when they are finally ready for marriage, they have become older. Mothers do not accept [reduction in dowry] for they think that it could affect their marriage preparations and that it will be a stigma…

Female circumcision [has been stopped]. We were doing that in the past, but after we knew its negative impacts, we stopped it. It is no longer conducted in the village.

Local resources in decline

All the buildings are made of grass and wood, [which is] the thing that affected the trees and contributed to the advance of desertification, for there is no other source of building material. People renew their buildings each year. Today they go to far distant areas to get grass and wood, and those who have money bring it from the cities.

In the past, there were 3-4 gutteia (round room with conical roof) in every household, as well as another one for guests. Today, you find only one or two…We used to make angaraib (beds made of wood and woven ropes) but since we lost the wood supply by cutting down the trees, we buy beds from the market.

The impact on women

The woman is the one who cultivates, who collects firewood and fetches water. Now the place of firewood is far away and [the journey] exhausting. A woman walks about 5 km on sand dunes, carrying firewood on her head and sometimes on the donkey.

Access to water is difficult for we fetch it from a well which is contaminated. The winds and sands bury the well every year. The water now is 14 metres below the surface. In the past, it was 6-8 metres. The difference is the result of burial by sand.

I’m working as voluntary teacher. We planted trees along with IFAD but we didn’t succeed because of desertification. Some people left their homes for another location, forming another village team. [We should] cultivate a shelterbelt of trees in order to stop desertification.

This interview has been specially edited for the web and cut down by more than half. Some re-ordering has taken place: square brackets indicate ‘inserted’ text for clarification; round brackets are translations / interpretations; and dots indicate cuts in the text. The primary aim has been to remain true to the spirit of the interview, while losing questions, repetition, and confusing or overlapping sections.

Project

Sayda: women’s lives is produced as part of the Desert voices: Sudan oral testimony project.

Testimonies

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

Desertification

Migration

Education

Social change

Gender

Pastoralism

Agriculture

Natural resources

Water

Health

Food security

Mutual support

Looking ahead