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  • Nazik Kabalo & Najlaa Ahmed

A Call for Action on International Women’s Day: Stand Up Against Gender and Ethnic Violence in Sudan


Two Sudanese women walking in the sand in refugee camp
Women walk through Djabel refugee camp in Eastern Chad, October 2023. (c) Global Partnership for Education. Credit: GPE/Michael Knief/AP

International Women’s Day is an opportunity for celebration, but on this 8 March 2024, we need to draw attention to Sudan’s “horrific conflict”, humanitarian crisis and its devastating impact on women. Often obscured by other crises, Sudans’ 11 month war is now the world’s largest displacement crisis, with over 8.1 million people displaced, and is set to become the world’s worst hunger crisis too, with groups calling for a famine to be declared. Adding to the crisis, cross-border aid into Sudan was recently halted due to fears of arms transfers, while proxy involvement of both Russia and Ukraine is being reported.


In the meantime, Sudanese women are enduring unimaginable abuses including conflict-related sexual violence based on perceived ethnic identities, often being called “slaves” before being raped. Identity-based violence, refers to hate crimes targeting individuals or groups based on their real or perceived identity, including gender, ethnicity, religion, or political affiliation. Identity-based violence is fuelled by hate speech and narratives of dehumanisation. It is particularly insidious as it inflicts physical harm while also destroying the very fabric of communities, perpetuating cycles of hatred and insecurity.


Amidst this chaos of 11 months of war (currently 80% of hospitals are out of action), women are primary targets of violence, facing unimaginable horrors, including rape, kidnapping, and sexual slavery at the hands of armed forces and militia groups.


The stories emerging from Sudan are harrowing and widespread. Somia Musa's account of her sisters being raped and brutalised by the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and allied militias in Tawila, North Darfur, paints a grim picture of the reality faced by Sudanese women. Similarly, Fatima's experience of being detained, beaten, and threatened with forced marriage by an RSF soldier exemplifies the culture of total impunity and disregard for women's lives.


These are not isolated incidents. The Violence Against Women and Children Unit in Sudan’s Ministry of Social Welfare has recorded over 136 cases of rape since the conflict began. However, from our Study published in 2023 examining conflict-related sexual violence in Sudan over the past decades, the actual number will be in the thousands, due to underreporting and limited access to affected areas. Women from all walks of life, including minors as young as four years old, are being subjected to unspeakable acts of violence and abuse.


What is particularly alarming is the systematic nature of gender-based violence in Sudan. Human rights activists, such as Arwa Saber and Hala al-Karib, highlight how sexual violence has been weaponised as a tool of war, with perpetrators acting with impunity and survivors left without recourse for justice or rehabilitation. The silence surrounding these crimes only perpetuates the cycle of violence, leaving women traumatised and communities torn apart.



A Call for Action: Demanding Justice and Accountability


As we stand on the cusp of International Women’s Day, we speak out against the atrocities being committed in Sudan and demand greater engagement from the international community. Violence is perpetrated along ethnic lines but also randomly. Data collection on violence against women and specific identity-based analysis is sparse. More resources are needed to produce gender-disaggregated data as well as its intersections with ethnicity to demonstrate the scale of the problem and support strategies to address it. 


News on 6 March that USAID’s Samantha Power is engaging with Fattah-al-Burhan on the humanitarian situation, regarding a deal to restore cross-border aid into Sudan provides a glimmer of hope, but a step up in international engagement is urgently needed. This includes ensuring access to essential services for survivors of conflict-related sexual violence, holding perpetrators accountable, and supporting local organisations working tirelessly to protect women's rights.


Logo of Sudan Women Rights Action

As we celebrate the resilience and strength of women around the world this International Women’s Day, let us not forget the women of Sudan who continue to endure unspeakable hardships. Let us stand in solidarity with them, amplifying their voices and their ability to broker local solutions. 


This article was written by Nazik Kabolo from SUWRA (@nazik_kabalo), Najlaa Ahmed and Pauline El-Koury from Rights for Peace.


 
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