Women, Peace, and Security: How Women in Sudan are Charting a New Course

McCain Institute
May 26, 2020

10:00 A.M. ET

Welcome and Remarks By

Mrs. Cindy McCain
Chair of the Board of Trustees, McCain Institute for International Leadership

A Conversation With

Ambassador Makila James
Deputy Assistant Secretary for East Africa and the Sudans Bureau of African Affairs

Huda Shafig
Program Director, Karama

Susan Stigant
Director of Africa Programs, United States Institute of Peace

Moderated By

Paul Fagan
Human Rights & Democracy Programs Director, McCain Institute for International Leadership

Sahana Dharmapuri
Director, Our Secure Future

In 2019, the worsening economic conditions sparked massive and prolonged street protests that eventually led to Omar al-Bashir’s removal. It was estimated that over 70% of demonstrators were women with many people calling it the “women’s revolution.”

While women were instrumental in toppling the regime and calling for their inclusion from the beginning of the transition, they were sidelined from the initial peace talks between civil society and the military. Women kept the pressure on as the talks progressed and eventually gained some important successes as the transitional government was being formed, including two women on the 11 member Sovereignty Council overseeing the transition; four female ministers out of 15 including the first female foreign minister; and the eventual creation – as guaranteed in the constitutional charter – of the Women and Gender Equality Commission to ensure women’s empowerment and gender equality is prioritized.

While these wins are important, women are still fighting an uphill battle. The fragility of the current context in Sudan cannot be overstated, and political exclusion is a major driver. Though women’s participation alone will not eliminate the risk of a return to widespread violence, the current context provides rich entry points for increasing inclusiveness, and thus the chance for improved security and lasting peace.

Please join us to hear DAS Makila James, Huda Shafig, and Susan Stigant discuss how women shaped the revolution, how they are continuing to fight for a more inclusive and prosperous Sudan, and how the international community can support these efforts.


Ambassador Makila James, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, has served as Deputy Assistant Secretary for East Africa and The Sudans since September 17, 2018. Prior to taking up these responsibilities, she was on the Faculty of the National War College and served as the Director of the International Student Management Office at the National Defense University (NDU) (2016-2018). She was the U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of Swaziland (now the Kingdom of Eswatini) from 2012 until December 2015. Amb. James has also held a variety of positions in Washington and overseas, including as the Director of the Office of Caribbean Affairs (2010-2012), Deputy Director of the Office of Southern African Affairs (2007-2009), and Principal Officer of the Consulate General in Juba, Southern Sudan (2006-2007). Previously, Amb. James was a member of the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff and was a research fellow at Georgetown University’s Institute for the Study of Diplomacy. She also served as an International Relations Officer in the Office of International Organization Affairs, Desk Officer in the Office of West African Affairs, and as a Watch Officer in the Department’s Operations Center. Her overseas assignments have included postings as Political Officer in Zimbabwe, Political/Economics Officer in Nigeria, and Consular Officer in Jamaica. Born in New York City, Amb. James received a B.A. from Cornell University, a J.D. from Columbia Law School, and a Masters in National Security Studies from NDU.

Huda Shafig leverages a decade of experience in peacebuilding and women’s rights in her work for gender quality and social justice. She is also the Co-Founder and Vice President of Gesr Center for Development, a Sudanese youth initiative that enables youth to lead social and political development by mainstreaming the youth agenda into development programs and policies through awareness raising, advocacy, and service delivery in the areas of human rights, gender equality, and democracy. Previously, Ms. Shafig worked in national and international organizations and with the United Nations in Sudan with a focus on gender, natural resource management, and peacebuilding. This included working at the Sudanese Center of Educational Research in the “Positive Promotion of Political Participation to University Students and Youth in Development” program which focused on gender mainstreaming. This project gave her the opportunity to work in seven Sudanese states where she got to know more about women’s challenges, opportunities and concerns. She has also worked as a professional trainer for Salmmah Women’s Resource Center as part of a project that targeted IDPs to raise their awareness about human rights and gender. Ms. Shafig has an MA in Co-existence and Conflict from Brandeis University and is a graduate of Columbia University’s Human Rights Advocates Program.

Susan Stigant is the director of Africa Programs at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) where she oversees programming in South Sudan, Nigeria, Sudan, CAR, DRC, Tanzania and Kenya and with the African Union. Susan’s thematic focus is on the design and implementation of inclusive constitutional reform and national dialogue processes. She has and continues to advise government officials and civil society actors on inclusive processes in Sudan, South Sudan, Libya, Somalia and elsewhere. Susan also serves as co-chair of USIP’s national dialogue working group. Prior to joining USIP, she managed constitutional development, citizen engagement and election observation programs with the National Democratic Institute (NDI). From 2005-2011, she served as program director with NDI in South Sudan, where she supported the implementation of the peace agreement.  She also worked with the Forum of Federations on comparative federalism and with the research unit of the Western Cape Provincial Parliament in South Africa.