The Sudanese activist serving up gender equality at her cafe

By Catherine Rolfe
July 29, 2021

If you ever find yourself in Kosti, Sudan, stop by the Queen Cafe. Owned by a young woman named Safa, 26, this bright, sunny space is more than just a place to quietly read or sip some tea; it’s a symbol of hope.

Safa, 26, has created a safe space for feminists at her cafe in the Sudanese city of Kosti.

Safa is a feminist activist, and has built the reputation of her cafe as a feminist platform, attracting likeminded young people working to end sexism in Sudan. Safa works alongside Plan International as a youth activist, getting involved in campaigns to end female genital mutilation and promoting children’s and girls’ rights. She also provides mentorship to girls, encouraging them to become financially independent.

Being a feminist activist in Sudan is not easy. Only recently has the country emerged from 30 years of military rule. During this time, there were widespread rights abuses, with women in particular enduring years of injustice, including restrictions on their clothing and behavior.

Here’s how Safa describes her work, her country and her hopes for the future, in her own words.

“Gender discrimination starts from a very young age, in the form of female genital mutilation and early marriage, then it develops as you get older. If you are a girl, you cannot work in certain jobs or do activities that are seen as just for boys. Girls stay at home and cook the food.

“It’s just accepted that a woman’s place is in the kitchen, so we are put in this zone where men do everything, and women sit and watch. This leads to women becoming helpless and without any role in society, never active or giving anything back.

“This is the biggest problem girls face, because if there was equality between the genders, boys and girls could both take an active role in society. I encourage every girl to know their own rights, and to fight for them.

“Women make up half of the community, so I encourage women to take up their rights, so that we have an integrated community. If every woman stayed at home and only acted for themselves, then our community wouldn’t be able to help others who can’t.

The Queen Cafe is located in Kosti, Sudan, and serves as a home base for feminist activists.

“To be an activist in Sudan, you will face many problems. Since I started this work, some things have become easier and others harder. You now find people are more open to equality, because they are already working in the same area, so some ideas are already starting to change. The hardships you face are from people who do not recognize our rights. They turn to violence and verbal abuse.

“As a feminist activist, I face certain dangers. I face bullying, I feel insecure. When I am here in my cafe, which is my platform where I do my activities from, I feel safe. But when I want to go back home, I need to ask for help because I feel anxious, and to me this is one of the biggest challenges I face.

“The other challenge is when people tell me that we are achieving nothing, and will not change anything as activists and they try to bring me down, which I face on daily basis. Bullying, and words that bring us down, is the hardest type of challenge we face.

“For change to happen, it needs to be in a complete form. I cannot work as a woman facing discrimination from men. We all, men and women, need to understand these issues and face them together to make a change in our community.

“It is very important for us to listen to women activists and understand their issues, because they know what the strong and weak points are. They have faced a lot, so they are the most suitable people to deliver these issues to the community in an understandable way. And they can be the voice for other women who don’t have the ability or energy to stand up for their rights.

“I encourage girls and women in Sudan to fight for their own rights and never give up. Do not say that we are tired, and nothing will change. Fight for it and advocate for each other. Eventually you will make a change.

“I think that to find support, we can use social media platforms to deliver our ideas and issues. People can help us by listening our issues, or adopting our ideas, or supporting our causes or advocating for our rights.

“I see a good future, because there are a lot of good results happening. It happens in a slow rhythm, but it is still happening. A lot of society, we know, have accepted and understood the concept of women’s rights, and change has happened. So this motivates you to work hard, and anything you work hard for you can get.”