Empowered in Khartoum: Darfurian “Second-Class” Women Establishing Businesses in the Big City


I was first introduced to Fatima in 2006. My mother signed a land-lease agreement with her husband to live on a plot of land belonging to my grandfather situated right in front of our house in Omdurman, a city in central Sudan. Fatima and her husband constructed a makeshift house made of cartons and zinc where they live with their seven children.

Fatima’s husband works as a builder, and earns an average of 30 pounds or $13 USD per day. Work is inconsistent. To support their large household, Fatima works several jobs – she cleans houses, does all the washing and ironing for two football teams twice a week, and sometimes women in the neighborhood hire her as a cook. When there is a celebration, she is an expert in henna drawing.

In Khartoum, it is almost impossible for men to support their households on their low wages. Most displaced men from Darfur are stuck in low-paying jobs doing manual work and getting paid a fixed wage every day. Women, however, can work several part-time jobs and earn money per hour. It is easier for women to find better paying jobs than their low skilled and poorly educated partners because the jobs they fill do not require an education or special skills. The displaced women cater to middle-class or upper-class working women who need help in their households and with beauty services such as waxing.

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