Zeinab Blandia is a peacemaker and community leader from the Nuba Mountains in Sudan. She has dedicated her life’s work to promoting the empowerment of women and their involvement in peace processes in South Kordofan, one of the word’s most conflict-affected and neglected areas. She is often described as the “point person” for creating community and maintaining peace.
From a young age Zeinab saw the prospect for leadership to bring about change in her community. Her grandmother—who affectionately called her Kosa Maadeh (or ‘great woman’)—would often inspire her by telling stories about the woman ‘Pato’ who once ruled the Kadugli tribe. Her family, she says, “really gave me that sense that you have to do something and you will be a leader in the future… How can I be leader? Can I be a leader like my grandmother? Like Pato? So that was my dream – to be a leader.”
Zeinab put her dream into action with a group of female university graduates from the Nuba Mountains. They founded the Ru’ya, or “Vision,” association. As executive director, Zeinab trains and cultivates other female community leaders, called “Women Peace Ambassadors”. These women learn how to lead in building peace and trust in their communities.
Ru’ya works with the belief that local problems have local solutions: “In this kind of conflict, usually the community has its indigenous way to solve the problem,” says Zeinab. Most importantly, the association demonstrates that women are essential to the renewal of civil society and peace: “Women are very effective and fast communicators. Once they decide that an issue is of importance to them, they get on to it, get the word out and mobilize others to join".
In the historic May 2011 elections in Sudan, Ru’ya played a key role in bringing out the women’s vote through promoting civic and voter education as well as training women in outreach and mobilizing other voters. The resurgence of the conflict in South Kordofan has interrupted Ru'ya’s work plans for the post-election period. Indeed, while she and the staff remain dedicated their work, they are also dealing with multiple threats to their security.
Ultimately, says Zeinab: “I really want to see Ru’ya stand strong.” We have no doubt that with Zeinab’s dedicated leadership to Ru’ya, the women of Sudan will remain steadfast and strong.
On the record: women in South Kordofan, Amel Gorani, openDemocracy, 14 November 2011.