Sexual Violence and the Social Stigma in Darfur
By Alvaina Daniels, WCC UN Liaison Office Intern
As the situation in Darfur continues, sexual violence remains in the forefront as a means of war and humiliation. As a result, survivors of sexual violence are not only ostracized by their families and communities but left to struggle alone with the long-term effects of this brutal victimization. Though they may find temporary sanctuary at a refugee camp and IDP settlement, survivors are still vulnerable to attacks during the day and night as the perpetrators wait outside the gates. At night, the perpetrators kidnap girls and bring them outside the camps to rape them. Sexual violence against women and girls is a very important issue, but more focus must be brought to solutions and the fact that though one may survive an attack, the emotional and physical scars run deep not only within the survivor but one’s society.
Article 1 of the UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women defines violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual, or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion, or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.” Although rapes in Sudan do take place in private, many take place in public view in front of the victim’s family and community. If the rape is in private, the victim will most likely hide it from her relatives and community, in hopes of not being ostracized. However, when a woman is raped publically, her community has witnessed the rape and considers her as tainted. If she is married, her husband most likely will leave her. If she is unmarried, she will not be considered for marriage. As a result she is left without the economic support and physical protection of a husband, which is important to Sudanese culture, and left more vulnerable to further attacks.
Pregnant women are not spared from rape in Darfur either. Amnesty International received several reports of women raped during pregnancy, which often leads to the loss of the child and physical and psychological injury of the mother. Women and girls often become pregnant as a result of rape. Since some in their communities do not believe pregnancy can occur from unwanted sex, the victim must choose either between her communities or her child as the child is considered “the child of the enemy.” In either case, the victim is presented with the traumatic aftermath of ostracism from society and the psychological and physical injuries that may pose problems for future pregnancies in addition to her reproductive and general health.
Surviving an attack is not the end to the suffering of women in Darfur; their husbands, children, relatives, and communities are ALL affected by this violent act. But most importantly, the survivor is the one who carries the shame and burden of an act that is beyond her control. We must all remember that the act of rape is something that affects us all and no woman, man, or child should have to experience the pain of such suffering. It is our duty to not only bring our sisters to safety, but to support them in the healing process and after. Rape survivors need more than adequate medical care, counseling services, education, sanitary equipment, food supplies, and water from humanitarian organizations. We also need to call on UN member states and the Security Council to provide more than adequate security for the complete safety of women and in girls in Sudan to help prevent their vulnerability to further attack. We must to stand in solidarity with the women and girls in Darfur and work with them to bring peace and safety to their home.
To find out more information or how you can help stop violence against women, you can visit http://www.amnestyusa.org/women/svaw/about.html.