Gender Justice and Sustainable Agriculture
a women’s rights organisation advocating for the rights of women and girls to enhance their roles in development processes and decision-making across Sudan


Poverty levels in Sudan are high, and climate change is bringing increasingly extreme and lengthy droughts to its lands and communities who depend on agriculture. The overgrazing of livestock has turned much of Sudan’s fertile land into desert, while slash-and-burn agriculture has destroyed two-thirds of the country’s forests. Soil erosion has increased flooding, contaminated drinking water, and spread water-borne illnesses such as cholera. Due to poverty, many men leave the countryside to seek work in cities, leaving women responsible for households that average 5-10 people in size. 70% of Sudan’s farming is conducted by women.1‘Boosting Resilient Livelihoods of Women Farmers: Food Security & Sustainable Agriculture – ZENAB FOR WOMEN IN DEVELOPMENT’ <https://www.zenab.org/our-results/boosting-food-security-and-nutrition-through-sustainable-agriculture/> [accessed 5 November 2023]. Famine is a real and increasing threat due to the interconnections of climate change and poverty. Climate change in Sudan adds to existing problems farmers experience in meeting external targets for production that see them resort to an over-reliance on certain crops, a dependency on certain seeds and chemical fertilisers, and ways of working the land that are too rapid to respect natural cycles.


Facing these combined issues of food scarcity, poverty, and gender inequality from the 1940s onwards, the educator and advocate Zenab Mohamad Nour promoted girls’ rights to education in Sudan by teaching, founding schools for girls in rural regions, and working with the Ministry for Education to build further infrastructure. Empowering girls and women to take charge of their own wellbeing through paid work, initiatives for agricultural development, financial literacy, education, and healthcare was paramount in breaking age-old relations of patriarchy within Sudan, and debt and dependency with Sudan and former colonial rulers.

In 2000, Zenab Mohamad Nour’s daughter, Fatima Ahmed, established Zenab for Women in Development (ZWD) to continue her mother’s work. To this day, ZWD undertake financial and conservation agricultural education to provide women and girls with skills to help with food and economic security, and find ways to diversify income in the face of crop failure. Such education is vital in Sudan, where girls’ education has historically been considered unnecessary due to customs confining women’s role to marriage and reproduction. Lacking education in finance and conservation agricultural techniques prevents girls and women from acquiring skills to self-organise and challenge both patriarchal barriers to self-determination and material challenges of poverty and climate change. Education is a tool for self-sufficiency that helps women see themselves as “agents of change”.2‘OUR APPROACH – ZENAB FOR WOMEN IN DEVELOPMENT’ <https://www.zenab.org/our-approach/> [accessed 5 November 2023].

ZWD’s provision of education and tools for women involved in the social and spatial production of farms, food sources, and agrarian communities suggests a way of working towards the empowerment of people most vulnerable to poverty and climate change. Similar approaches are seen in grassroots initiatives such as Kenya’s Greenbelt Movement, which supports women to grow their own food, and the political scientist Elinor Ostrom’s work on the commons.3Elinor Ostrom. Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990). The emphasis on solidarity and mutual aid in these approaches could inform design by encouraging principles of accessibility and inclusivity based on the needs of those in most need, and future-planning to ensure justice for generations ahead. Projects like ZWD demonstrate that achieving climate justice in spatial practice requires taking gender into account when considering social questions such as fairness of access, divisions of labour, and inclusive governance. ZWD also demonstrate the value of education in securing an ethical, gender- and climate-responsive future.