Exposing Sudan’s silent war: The epidemic of violence against women

Exposing Sudan’s silent war: The epidemic of violence against women

Written by Zainab Amanullah

Photo: Zam Zam Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) Camp, North Darfur, 2011/ UN Photo / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 DEED

Zainab Amanullah, gaza, mothers

In April 2023, civil war broke out in Sudan. A power struggle ensued between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the paramilitary Rapid Support Group (RSG). Men across the country donned uniforms, cloaking themselves with a higher purpose, picking up weapons and justifying the ensuing barbarity as they ravaged their own homeland. However, for millions of Sudanese women, their lives were violently halted, their dignities desecrated and their dreams crushed as they paid the highest price; a silent testament to being collateral in a male-driven war.

Five million people have been internally displaced in Sudan, the majority of whom are women. According to the United Nations, 4.3 million women and girls are now at risk of gender-based violence, a number that was already at 3 million before the civil war broke out.

The women who are unable to find refuge with their families have been forced into camps. Currently, an estimated 1,092,000 women and girls of reproductive age reside in Sudan, with 105,000 pregnant women. They are living under the worst humanitarian conditions: with a complete absence of privacy and with more than 70% of health facilities either closed or inoperable, women are stranded with very limited resources to access reproductive healthcare. As the economy derails and extreme food insecurity tightens its cruel grip over 17.7 million displaced people, harmful coping strategies escalate such as child marriages, turning young girls into chosen victims. 

The silence towards this war is exacerbating the atrocities being committed against them. The lack of advocacy renders their struggles invisible, as they gradually fade from public consciousness. The world may have stopped noticing, but crimes against women continue to mount.  

Women in Sudan have become the targets of violence. During rampant instability, women and girls are disproportionately affected. Robbed of their safety and security, they find themselves at greater risk of gender-based violence in a society where their vulnerability has already profoundly increased, pushing them towards a future shrouded in the dark clouds of dependency and exploitation. 

Women’s independence is now controlled by their male relatives. The war has stripped them of their sources of income, leaving them financially insecure and reliant on men for their basic needs. This control puts their lives in complete jeopardy, and with nowhere else to turn to, the threat to Sudanese women becomes exponential. 

Those who are unable to leave quickly enough are sentenced to barbaric crimes. According to the World Health Organization, more than 4 million women and girls in Sudan are at risk of sexual violence. Reports of brutal rape have emerged, from a culture of war that allows and promotes sexual violence as a tool to subjugate and terrorise, ethnically and racially motivated. Hundreds of cases, which are just the tip of the iceberg, have been reported of women’s bodies being brutalised and violated by the RSF. Due to the stigma and shame associated with this form of violence, and the burden borne solely by women, most cases go unreported. But the horrifying stories of women forcibly abducted to serve as sex slaves, being sold in El Fasher, and the testimonies of survivors recounting the harrowing ordeal of being raped countless times cannot be overlooked and must be addressed with utmost urgency.

The struggle that started for the control of power over land has taken so much more from women. The women of Sudan played a very pivotal role in the movement for democracy and change. The image of Alaa Salah standing atop a car, leading a chant, was central to the demonstrations that ended president Al-Bashir’s autocratic reign. 

Sudanese women are the force of change. And right now, this epidemic of violence is forcing them to fight battles on multiple fronts as they experience increased poverty, violence, displacement and impeded access to healthcare and education. Their voices need amplifying, their ordeals deserve justice. Their chants of “revolution, liberty, we will continue to fight”, we must continue for them, screaming until we are heard, carrying on their fight. 


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