Women were never simply guests at the negotiating table. The roles they play as combatants, supporters of fighting forces and peacemakers qualify them to sit at the negotiating table and to assume an active role in implementation. Thousands of women had joined the southern liberation struggle in response to a political situation that affected whole communities, leaving the comfort and security of their homes not just to accompany their husbands but to fight for freedom, democracy, equity, justice, rights and dignity. Their roles in the conflict ranged from combatants to providers of support to fighters, including feeding and caring for sick and wounded soldiers. Although in any armed conflict women are victims of violence, bombing, landmines, hunger and diseases, it is not correct to portray them simply as innocent victims. In Khartoum, women contributed gold in support of the jihad and encouraged their sons to join up, while in the south, the Nuba Mountains and southern Blue Nile women contributed food and encouraged their sons to join the SPLA to fight marginalisation and oppression by the government in Khartoum.
On the other hand, Sudanese women have worked very hard to keep families and communities together during conflicts through singing peace songs, persuading their husbands, sons and brothers to stop fighting, risking dangerous peace missions across enemy territories, or marrying across enemy lines to unite or reconcile warring communities. There were times when women stopped conflict from escalating by defying or opposing decisions by male members of the community to go to war. In one case women from a community in southern Sudan were reported to have threatened not to comply with their conjugal obligations until their husbands stopped killing each other, while in some areas of the south women threatened to expose their nakedness (a curse in most Sudanese customary beliefs) to protest ethnic conflict.
Women have also taken a leading role in creating links and forums for resolving inter-ethnic conflict, leading to many grassroots peace accords. Examples include the people-to-people processes, such as the Wunlit Covenant between the Nuer and the Dinka and the Lilir Covenant between Nuer groups. It has been reported that when it was decided by Dinka elders that a peace delegation was to be sent to Nuer land, no one wanted to go; it was the brave wife of a Dinka chief who demanded that her husband lead his people to Nuer land, even though she was aware of the high risk involved. Another example where women stood together in solidarity against their husband's political position was the period following the split in the SPLM/A. Women from both sides of the split continued to visit one another, maintain communication and provide a forum to discuss issues that affected their communities, something no man was capable of.
In order to effectively address social, economic and general problems of war facing women, many women organised themselves into groups, networks and NGOs on both sides of the political divide. These activist networks (including the Sudanese Women's Voice for Peace, New Sudan Women's Federation, and New Sudan Women's Association) went all over the world advocating peace and drawing attention to what was then referred to as 'the forgotten war.' In Washington DC, the UN Headquarters in New York, the Hague and Beijing, women lobbied the international community to pressure Sudan's warring parties to end the war.
It is clear that the absence of women at the negotiating table in Naivasha or Abuja was not due to lack of experience and capacity, but to the perceptions of their role.