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Almost all narrators, regardless of their own gender, acknowledge the increase in women’s workloads due to the absence of men for work, and the scarcity of water and fuelwood. Women have to carry wood and water for much longer distances today.

Widad mentions the physical cost: “girls carry [gallons of] water on their heads… in the morning and the same in the evening… most of them complain of severe pain in the neck”.

Fatima says women do most of the cultivation today, too: “Women are exhausted, they only cultivate one or two ropes [1 rope is 3.48 metres wide] for they harvest by hand.”

On a more positive note, Osman, Madinah and others comment that women today have much more autonomy to choose marriage partners or stay in education. However, since educational opportunities and the presence of single men have both been severely diminished by poverty, for many the choice remains somewhat theoretical.

The difficulties everyone has in making ends meet have also undermined traditional support mechanisms. Osman points out that women on their own often have to resort to charcoal making “in order to earn their living. People used to help these women, but now nobody cares for them”.


Gender 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